Trumped in Toronto
Defense betrays Pistons as Raptors build 23-point lead, hang on
Lawrence Frank’s vision for the Pistons is resolute: They will be a defense-first team. We know how practice is going to go when he reconvenes them Monday night for their next practice after the All-Star break: defense first.
The Pistons, who tightened up remarkably on that end in winning 7 of 10 games prior to the two-game trek to Cleveland and Toronto that carries them into the All-Star break, sprung leaks over these last two games. The Raptors, 28th in the NBA in scoring, built a 23-point lead early in the fourth quarter before a cheap shot from Jerryd Bayless on Greg Monroe ignited a comeback that saw the Pistons get within nine points with under five minutes to go.
“It’s disappointing, yet it’s just a reality check. We have a lot of work to do,” Frank said after the 103-93 loss that gives the Pistons an 11-24 record. “You don’t let the wins and losses get caught in your eyes about the process.
“This gives us a healthy break to reflect on which kind of team we want to be. Do we want to be the group that played the first 24 games (4-20 record) or the group that put together consistent basketball for a little bit of a stretch? We want to be that group. You have to be mentally and physically engaged every night to do it and that’s what we want to commit to.”
The fight they showed after the Bayless cheap shot would do nicely. After he clobbered Monroe with a body block from behind to prevent a breakaway layup – Bayless was hit with a flagrant-1 – the Pistons went on a 13-0 run and got within nine on a Brandon Knight 3-point shot. They still had 4:47 to work with at that point, but the miracle comeback wasn’t in them and they go into the break with a bad taste after a 7-3 stretch that concluded with Sunday’s Palace rout of Boston.
Monroe scored 17 in the fourth quarter, making 9 of 10 free throws, and finished with 30 points and 14 boards. Monroe made no attempt to hide his displeasure with Bayless – at the time or in the locker room afterward – but he said he was upset by the way the Pistons played as much as anything.
“I think it was overboard – I don’t think it was borderline at all,” he said of Bayless. “I think it was pretty obvious. They made the right call. … I was already fired up. We just didn’t play well. I don’t know what was going on. I know we can play better than that. They just came out and wanted to win more than us.”
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of Wednesday’s loss was the passive play of Rodney Stuckey. He’d averaged 23.3 points and 11.2 foul shots over his last five games, but in 18 minutes he missed both his field goals and didn’t get to the line. Stuckey was on the bench when the Pistons rallied against Toronto and stayed there as Brandon Knight and Walker Russell played.
“The guys on the floor fought hard,” Frank said of the group he let finish. “That game was getting away from us and they kept on clawing, forced some turnovers, got some easy baskets. Greg was relentless on the glass. I thought he showed great fight.”
Of Stuckey’s night, Frank said, “Some nights you’re better than others. We have enough to win. We go with the guys that are going well. That’s what you do. That’s why you have a team. Next man up. No one’s going to play great for 82 games.”
While the Pistons were playing their third game in four nights, it was the first game for the Raptors since they’d hit their nadir, a home loss to the league’s worst team, Charlotte, last Friday. Now the Pistons get a similar break; their next game is Tuesday, when they host Philadelphia. What team will they be when they come back from the All-Star break? Lawrence Frank is likely to have that talk with them when he sees them at Monday’s practice.