What a Knight

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Rookie Brandon Knight pushed back when it was suggested he was hitting the rookie wall earlier in the week, but he shot 30 percent over the four-game road trip and averaged 8.3 points. He scored eight points in the first six minutes against Milwaukee after going scoreless against the Bucks four nights earlier. By halftime, he’d scored 18 points, shot 7 of 11 and drained three 3-pointers – matching his output from the arc for the four-game trip. Knight didn’t shoot it quite as well in the second half, but still found ways to produce. He finished with a career-best 26 points, including huge baskets on consecutive possessions late after Milwaukee had cut a 15-point deficit to four. Knight also chipped in with seven assists and three rebounds in the 88-80 win.

BLUE COLLAR – Jason Maxiell, in his second start since replacing Ben Wallace in the starting lineup, played with great energy in racking up eight points and 12 rebounds, the latter a season best. It appears Lawrence Frank has decided to go with a three-man rotation at the two interior positions. Wallace didn’t play in the first half of the loss at New Jersey two nights ago, coming on in the second half when both Maxiell and Greg Monroe incurred foul trouble, and he did not play in Friday’s win over Milwaukee. Maxiell was active defensively, as well, a big factor in the Pistons holding Milwaukee to 35 percent shooting.

RED FLAG – Learning how to protect leads and close out games is a tough thing for a 4-20 team, the record the Pistons brought into their Friday night matchup with Milwaukee. Just as they did a week ago against Atlanta, the Pistons dominated most of the game and led by 15 points late in the third quarter. After Milwaukee cut it to four, the Pistons again bumped it up to 11, only to see Milwaukee again chop the deficit down to four on two occasions before their defense dug in and gave up just two more points over the last three minutes, a meaningless basket with less than 10 seconds left.

After being as cold as ice four nights earlier in Milwaukee, Brandon Knight was as smooth as vanilla in the Pistons-Bucks rematch.

On a night ’90s star Vanilla Ice performed, Brandon Knight – born in 1992, two years after “Ice Ice Baby” dominated the airwaves – made sure the Pistons didn’t have to take second billing to the halftime act. The Pistons won their second straight NBA title when Vanilla Ice was the chart-topper. By the time Knight’s ready to consistently put up performances like the one he recorded in his team’s 88-80 win over Milwaukee, maybe the Pistons will be ready to challenge at that level again.

“He was outstanding,” Lawrence Frank said after Knight’s 26-point night, a career high, to go with seven assists and zero turnovers as he won the head-to-head battle with Brandon Jennings, who helped limit Knight to zero points as Milwaukee beat the Pistons on Monday. “He really rose to the challenge. Brandon really responded.”

“I didn’t take it as an individual matchup,” Knight said. “He’s a great player. He’s been playing at an All-Star level. I just wanted to make it tough on him and play to the best of my ability. My teammates helped me get open shots. That put a lot of confidence in me. I just wanted to lift them up throughout the game and become one of the bright spots on the team as far as energy, to be contagious. Everyone did a good job of staying focused for 48 minutes. I really felt we put a good game together tonight.”

The offense came and went – 20 points in the first six minutes, then some dry stretches – but the game turned on the defensive end. After allowing every team during their seven-game losing streak to shoot at least 48 percent and four of them to make more than half of their shots, the Pistons limited Milwaukee – which beat Miami two nights earlier – to just 35 percent and only 3 of 17 from the 3-point line.

“It definitely started with defense,” Knight said. “That’s what we challenged ourselves to do. They shot a great percentage in the first two games against us on the three, had a lot of easy looks, had a lot of stuff in rhythm. Coach challenged us to put some pressure on them and get them out of rhythm.”

“Everybody just gave the maximum effort tonight,” said Greg Monroe after a strong 18-point, 11-rebound effort. “Communication was good. Everybody was on the same page. We’re getting better.”

“Three quarters of (Milwaukee scoring) 20 or less,” Frank said. “Jennings in the second half, four points; in the fourth quarter, zero. Even when we went dry offensively, our resolve, our toughness, our ability to get stops was impressive tonight.”

Jason Maxiell was a big part of the energy and defensive tenacity. In his second start, Maxiell grabbed a season-best 12 rebounds and scored eight points. Averaging 19 minutes a game, Maxiell logged nearly double that (37), yet had enough life left in the fourth quarter to knock down a big 21-footer with seven minutes left to put the Pistons up seven, then sprint downcourt in time to draw a charge from Larry Sanders. Four of Maxiell’s rebounds and one of his two blocked shots came in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons saw a 15-point late third-quarter lead dwindle to four on two occasions.

“His energy was great,” Frank said. “Max has been very consistent throughout the year. It was good to see him bring energy again. It lifts up our team.”

“Max is always going to play hard – that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about with him,” Monroe said. “He’s going to bring an intensity level. He’s going to bring a toughness. It’s been good having him in the game with me.”

It was 80-76 when Frank called timeout with 2:54 left. Knight responded with a 9-foot floater. After Shaun Livingston countered to again bring Milwaukee within four, Knight scored on a pretty drive that finished with a high-arcing left-handed layup. The last time the Pistons played at home, a week ago, they led nearly wire to wire, but lost in overtime when Atlanta hit two 3-pointers in the final minute.

“When we got under three minutes, that timeout, and to come out and score right off the bat was a good boost,” Frank said. “Then come back with a score and a stop. When you get down to the last six minutes, it’s your ability to get consecutive stops and your ability to get guys good shots down the stretch.”

It was the youngest among them who seized the moment, Knight scoring six points and dealing out two assists without turning the ball over in the crucible of a fourth quarter with the game on the line.

“He definitely did a great job tonight, especially taking the challenge with Brandon Jennings,” Monroe said. “Jennings is on a very good roll right now. He’s one of the hottest players in the league. Brandon accepted the challenge and had a real good game tonight.”