Staying Strong

Fight, unity take hold in tough-luck loss to wrap up grinding road trip

Despite a tough road trip, the Pistons remain optimistic.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
The Pistons didn’t win any games a week ago, but when they hit the road for a four-game road trip that included their first three-in-three set of the season they left feeling pretty good about themselves. They’d led both Miami and Atlanta late before losing and saw evidence of real progress. Less than a week later, they return home in a different place after losing four straight on a dizzying road trip, the first three by an average of 23 points.

Yet the notes struck in the locker room after Tuesday’s one-sided loss to New York seemed to take hold a night later in New Jersey, when the Pistons played with a fight and a unity that had been elusive throughout the first three games of their most daunting road trip to date.

Tayshaun Prince spoke after the Knicks game about the ball sticking on offense and of plays breaking down and forcing too frequent one-on-many attacks. Ben Wallace stressed the need to stick together through tough times. In a game that saw Prince and Brandon Knight bounce game-tying shots off the rim in the closing seconds, the Pistons scored 58 points in the second half and spilled their souls on the Prudential Center’s court.

“Our guys showed real character and grit,” Lawrence Frank said, and Jonas Jerebko – who minces no words when the Pistons fall flat – said the Pistons “showed some character.”

Losing stresses a team in ways it can’t imagine in the serene days of training camp when the best plans are laid, before the games start whizzing by like streaking comets. When adversity strikes, it’s human nature to question everything.

From veterans with championship pedigrees like Ben Wallace to members of the young wave central to their future like Greg Monroe, the Pistons understand the need to remain unified.

“We’ve got to keep everybody on board and not allow anybody to stray from the pack,” Wallace said. “We know we’re not playing well and we know we can play better. We’ve just got to keep working at it and try to get better at what we’re doing.”

“I think we are (staying upbeat),” Monroe said. “I don’t think we’re separating or anything like that. We just have to all find a solution to make this right and we have to all be on the same page to make it work.”

While Frank clearly isn’t taking the losses lightly – indeed, with his family across the Hudson River in New Jersey, he spent all of his time in the team’s New York hotel burning the midnight oil after Tuesday’s loss to the Knicks and didn’t get to visit during the Pistons’ nearly 48 hours in the metro area – he isn’t letting them wear him down, either.

“There are interesting and great times,” he said. “From a team standpoint, when you’re going through some stuff this is where you really have to stay true to who you are and this is where you see a trust and a belief system. I’ve always embraced these times. We’ll move forward. We’ll continue to get better at what we do.”

Pistons players see the investment Frank and his staff are putting into the search for answers in the face of trying circumstances – a new coach handcuffed by the lockout leading to the season and the compressed schedule that allows for precious little practice time once the games began. It hasn’t helped any that a team with offensive shortcomings is missing three of its most capable scorers, either, in Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum.

“He’s definitely a fiery coach,” he said. “He’s well prepared. He gives us as much information as we can get. He always brings as much energy as he can from the coaching position, riles us up but at the same time is doing as much strategically to put us into position to win.”

After a much-needed day of no games on Thursday, they’ll get two more chances over the weekend to see if the progress Frank cited after Wednesday’s loss can be sustained and built upon in Friday and Saturday home games against Milwaukee and New Orleans.