Better Balance

Gordon’s return gives Pistons more firepower in 2nd unit

Ben Gordon's return is a good sign for the Pistons.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Lawrence Frank likes to see at least five Pistons in double figures when he checks the postgame box score. He’s searching for an offense-defense balance both in his starting five and the lineup combinations that ensue once the starters are established. In Ben Gordon, he has a fast-heating scorer with a history of success in coming off the bench.

Add it up. Then mix in the evidence – still not much to go on, but all he has so far – of what happened the other night in New Jersey, when the Pistons scored 99 points, 13 above their average, and won their second road game.

With Gordon and Will Bynum out, Frank had a tough time keeping a second unit largely intact for long because it lacked scoring punch. But the Pistons hung 31 points on the board at New Jersey in a second quarter that for a long stretch included a unit composed entirely of backups: Gordon, Jonas Jerebko, Ben Wallace, Austin Daye and Walker Russell. Gordon missed his first shot, then knocked down his next six in a variety of ways.

“He was very, very efficient,” Frank said. “Ben’s proven he’s a guy that can change a game with his scoring off the bench. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense, plus his ability to move the ball – he had a couple of great passes to Jonas because they were putting two on the ball and that’s the type of unselfish basketball we have to play.”

“We just came in and played with great energy,” said Gordon, who’d missed 10 games with a sore left shoulder. “We did a good job of converting off our defense and really allowing defense to create our offense. Not only did we play solid D, we got some easy baskets in transition and created some offense.”

Frank had the same assessment: The second unit’s 31 points was as much the story of how it changed the tone of the game defensively, leading to some easy scoring chances that primed the pump. Gordon and Jerebko scored eight points apiece and Russell added five.

“The second unit changed the whole game in the second quarter,” he said. “The ball was moving. When you have a team-first agenda and there’s great spirit about it, the ball does tend to move.”

Ball movement gets the defense moving, creating lanes of opportunity for players with the motor to stay on the move and take advantage of them – an area where Jerebko, especially, excels. Having Gordon’s shot-making added to the mix stretches a defense even more.

“It gives us a little more firepower,” Gordon said of his addition to the backups. “I’ve got a good chemistry with those guys, especially Jonas. We played well together. That’s something, through this next stretch of games or however long the lineup is like that, that we can feed off of.”

Since the Pistons play the Nets again tonight – their third meeting in 10 days – Frank and Nets coach Avery Johnson both have compared the situation to a playoff series, where game-to-game adjustments can change the balance of competition. The ball is in Johnson’s court to find a more effective combination to counter the Pistons’ second unit. Frank, too, will be on guard for any necessary tinkering.

“Nothing is etched into stone,” he said. “When Rodney (Stuckey) was out, BG was starting. He had some very productive games. We’ll constantly have different combinations on the floor during different times, regardless of who starts or who comes off the bench.”