Nose Broken, Streak Not
Broken at The Palace: Brandon Knight’s nose, yes; the Pistons’ winning streak, no.
Playing their seventh game in nine nights – all without three key players – the Pistons lost their electric rookie point guard five minutes into the game when he caught an elbow that wobbled him and broke his nose. And it had already started ominously, the Pistons falling behind 6-0 and misfiring on their first four possessions.
“That’s what we talked about in the locker room – the spirit and the fight,” Lawrence Frank said following the Pistons’ 89-87 win over New Orleans, completing a weekend sweep at The Palace after knocking off Milwaukee the night before. “Seventh game in nine nights, go down shorthanded again without your starting point guard and instead of, ‘Oh, man, here we go again,’ there was fight.”
Knight, who a night earlier dropped a career-best 26 points to lead the Pistons in snapping their seven-game losing streak, went down in a heap under the New Orleans basket when Greg Monroe and his ex-Georgetown and Pistons teammate DaJuan Summers went after a rebound and somebody’s elbow – Monroe says it was Summers’ – caught Knight in the face.
Knight stayed down for a few minutes, then was led to the locker room by strength coach Arnie Kander. When they told him he’d miss the game, Knight rebelled.
“They’ll have to reset it, get him fit for a mask,” Frank said. “Hopefully by Tuesday we’ll have him back at practice. To give him unbelievable credit, he has a broken nose and he’s begging those guys to get back in the game. Couldn’t do it.”
Without Knight, a shortened guard rotation got that much shorter. Will Bynum has been out for three weeks with a foot injury and Ben Gordon two weeks with a sore shoulder, leaving only Rodney Stuckey and D-League call-up Walker Russell. Frank had to buy some backcourt minutes with Austin Daye and Damien Wilkins, but he rode Stuckey for 38 minutes and Russell for 33. Stuckey scored 17 points, getting to the line eight times, and Russell chipped in with nine points and four assists. But Russell’s most important contribution came on the defensive end, where his scrappiness helps set a tone.
“When you can have a guy step in and give us 33 minutes of play – to play with that fight and spirit and heart,” Frank said, “I thought Walker did very, very well.”
The game had gone back and forth for most of the night when the Pistons, who trailed by three at halftime, took the first double-digit lead either way by going on an 8-0 run early in the fourth. New Orleans point guard Grevis Vasquez answered a 7-0 run of his own. Frank called timeout and rushed Greg Monroe – brilliant again with 24 points and 16 boards against his hometown team – and Russell back into the game. Monroe played all but 2:30 of the second half; the Hornets outscored the Pistons 7-3. But it was Russell who limited Vasquez to two points in the final six minutes.
“One man goes down, the other man’s got to step up,” he said. “I never played against Vasquez, but I did a pretty good job, I think. I’m just out here trying to play good defense and make my team better.”
The schedule has softened some on the Pistons over the past week, but they’re 2-1 with a narrow loss over their last three games since Frank turned to Jason Maxiell at power forward, the third to man that spot this season following Jonas Jerebko and Ben Wallace. Maxiell, coming off an eight-point, 12-rebound night when he logged 37 minutes against Milwaukee, made big contributions again with 10 points, five boards and a block in 33 minutes. He had two big dunks in the last 2:31, the first in traffic off a feed from Tayshaun Prince, the second when he rounded up a Monroe miss.
“Jason Maxiell embodied what the effort was all about,” Frank said. “His tenacity, his effort, his toughness – I don’t know what (Monroe) finished with (in) offensive rebounds. I guess he had six. I would bet that three of them were the result of Max keeping balls alive and then to get that big dunk – momentum play. Max brings a toughness, an intensity, a tenacity about him. He played with an edge.”
The Pistons came home a few days ago off a demoralizing four-game road trip that dropped their record to 4-20. Now they’ve got a two-game winning streak and a stretch of three days off before their next game after going their first 26 games without more than a day between games.
“It definitely feels good,” Monroe said, “especially to come back home and get it in front of the home crowd. We needed them. It was a maximum team effort. We played a whole game, played 48 minutes both games. We just have to continue to do that night in, night out.”