3 Straight for Pistons

Jerebko, Monroe and 4th-quarter response key road win

TEAM COLORS

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

– Jonas Jerebko and Greg Monroe were looking forward to playing together a year ago, but Jerebko’s Achilles injury squelched that opportunity. They had their finest game together in Wednesday’s 99-92 win over New Jersey, Monroe finishing with 20 points, 12 rebounds and four assists and Jerebko coming off the bench for 16 points and seven boards. Their chemistry was on full view in the fourth quarter, especially during a critical 6-0 run after the Nets had sliced an 18-point deficit to one. Amid that run, Monroe hit Jerebko for a dunk and Jerebko fed Monroe for a layup. Jerebko came on for Jason Maxiell five minutes into the game and had a 12-point, three-rebound first half. The win was the Pistons’ third straight, their longest streak of the season, and gave them their second road victory.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons scored six points in the first six-plus minutes of the game. It was a pair of bench players, Jonas Jerebko and Ben Gordon, who helped goose the offense. An all-bench unit of those two plus Ben Wallace, Walker D. Russell Jr. and Austin Daye were on the court together for about a seven-minute stint in the second quarter as the Pistons went on a 9-0 run and took control of the game, outscoring the Nets 31-19 to take a 12-point halftime lead. After a 6-0 run to start the third quarter, the lead was at 18 – just enough to withstand the heroics of Deron Williams, who scored 27 points in the second half and led the Nets with 34.

RED FLAG – When the Pistons went on a 6-0 run to take an 18-point lead to start the second half against a Nets team held to 39 points in the first half, it should have been a little more comfortable headed to the fourth quarter than 74-67. But the Nets got back in it when the Pistons gave up too many open 3-point shots, eventually cutting the lead to one point in the fourth quarter. The Nets, after being limited to 1 of 10 from the arc in the first half, drained 5 of 9 triples in the third and went 4 of 8 in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Pistons 30-6 from the 3-point line.

NEWARK, N.J. – An 18-point Pistons lead had melted to one, Deron Williams going into full superstar mode to lead a comeback, delivering the Pistons to what Lawrence Frank calls the moment of truth: the last six minutes of an NBA game hanging in the balance.

It’s the time that defines every champion, but it also defines teams destined for history’s dustbin. The Pistons, predictably, have struggled with those moments this season under a first-year coach with a roster Joe Dumars acknowledged all along is a work in progress.

But something clicked in the fourth quarter on a damp night in New Jersey. And it started with Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko. After a Williams four-point play made it 78-77, Monroe threaded a pass through the lane to Jerebko for a dunk. A Rodney Stuckey fast-break layup stretched the lead to five and then a Jerebko defensive rebound started another possession finished when he fired a laser to Monroe for a layup.

The 99-92 win was punctuated a few minutes later when Monroe drove the lane, Jerebko sealing it off and drawing defenders to him, and finished with an emphatic dunk that caught even his teammates by surprise.

“I was so surprised,” Jerebko grinned in the locker room after stuffing the stat sheet: 16 points, seven boards, two assists, two blocks, two steals. “I didn’t know if it went it, but it was a great dunk. I was standing there … hopefully, I’ll see it on ‘SportsCenter’ tonight.”

“Just finish it strong,” Monroe said he thought to himself as he put the ball on the floor and headed to the rim. “That’s all I was doing was finishing it strong. Everybody had a high level of intensity tonight. We wanted to get a good win on the road. Coming down the stretch, the intensity raised even more and I think I was one of the people doing that, too.”

It was a satisfying win all around for the Pistons – their third straight after a 4-20 start, their second road win, a game that saw them push back against a rallying home team led by an acknowledged superstar.

“Every time they made a run, we bent but we didn’t break – we answered,” Frank said. “For our team, that’s good. You have to play through mistakes. You have to give them credit for making threes, but holding them to 42 percent, having six guys in double figures, 29 assists in 39 field goals – encouraging signs.”

Among them, the return of Ben Gordon to the lineup after a 10-game absence with a sore shoulder. With Gordon coming off the bench, the second unit suddenly has some scoring punch. Jerebko and Gordon combined for 20 first-half points and the Pistons, who scored only six points in the first six minutes of the game, scored 31 in the second quarter and turned the game with an all-bench unit of Ben Wallace, Walker D. Russell Jr. and Austin Daye together with Jerebko and Gordon.

“At halftime, that’s the first thing we said – the second unit changed the game defensively,” Frank said. “Now we started getting easy baskets. That second unit in the second quarter changed the whole tone of the game for us. That whole group out there was very, very productive.”

Their terrific run would have been largely forgotten, though, if the Pistons hadn’t responded the way they did to Williams’ phenomenal second half, when he scored 27 of his 34 points and hit 6 of 8 from the 3-point arc.

“We’ve got to close out games when we’re up 18 like that,” Jerebko said, “but we showed great strength. They took it down to one and we responded and kept responding as a team, so we got something good out of it.”

“Everybody just kept their composure, everybody stayed together,” Monroe said. “We knew we had to make a run and we were able to do that.”

Monroe finished with 20 points, 12 boards, four assists and two steals, encouraged that his productive nights are now coming in wins and sensing a growing chemistry that goes beyond just him and Jerebko.

“It’s not just us two – it’s everybody,” he said. “We’re definitely becoming a more unselfish team. We’re looking for our teammates even more. Coach has been emphasizing moving the ball, so that’s all we’re doing – we’re just trying to find the open man and get as many easy shots as we can.”

Jerebko’s non-stop motor and Monroe’s uncanny vision and passing skills for a big man have long made Pistons management feel they would be a complementary fit, and the two saw the possibilities of their pairing in the 2010 NBA Summer League. But Jerebko’s Achilles injury wiped out any chance they had to play together last season.

“We haven’t played that much together,” Jerebko said. “I missed a whole year. It’s fun to play with a guy like that.”

Even more fun when you keep coming up with the right responses in Lawrence Frank’s moments of truth, on the road, to extend your winning streak.