Super Tuesday


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

– Ben Gordon kept the Pistons in the game when the Lakers threatened to pull away early, then Rodney Stuckey picked up the baton. He never set it down. His killer 3-pointer with 10 seconds left put the Pistons up two and would have been the game winner – but Kobe Bryant, 7 of 22 at that time, hit a clutch jumper as the buzzer sounded to force overtime Tuesday at The Palace. But Stuckey added six more points in overtime, finishing with 34 points, as the Pistons scored an 88-85 win. After scoring only two points in the first quarter due to early foul trouble, Stuckey scored 10 in the second quarter as the Pistons took the lead. He scored 22 points after halftime, made 13 of 20 shots and all seven of his free throws in the most stirring win of the season so far.

BLUE COLLAR – When Rodney Stuckey picked up two quick fouls guarding Kobe Bryant, then Tayshaun Prince, who took over for Stuckey, needed a breather, Lawrence Frank turned to Damien Wilkins. Wilkins played a central role as the Pistons finished the first half on a 20-4 run to come back from 12 down. Wilkins scored five points to go with three rebounds, an assist and a steal in the second quarter, but most important was his work on Bryant, limiting him to two points on 1 of 4 shooting. Ben Wallace and Jonas Jerebko gave the Pistons big minutes off the bench, too, Wallace especially. He played 27 minutes and played stout defense on massive Andrew Bynum in the fourth quarter especially.

RED FLAG – After closing the first half on a rush, the Pistons missed their first 14 shots of the third quarter and fell behind by seven points. They hung in there, never trailing by more than seven, despite scoring only nine points in the quarter and shooting 4 of 24. They also had to overcome tough nights from young stars Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, who shot a combined 1 of 16. Monroe did contribute 15 rebounds in just 27 minutes, at least, as he sat most of the fourth quarter with Ben Wallace on for him.

When Tom Gores talked about his vision for the Pistons doing something to lift the spirits of Detroit, it was nights like Tuesday he had in mind. Lots more of them, for sure, but you know what they say about the longest journeys starting with a single step. It will be left to history to judge just how big the step they took with their 88-85 overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers was, but it sure seemed like one giant leap from the perspective of the present.

“It’s special tonight,” Lawrence Frank said, after first issuing the required disclaimer that it only counts as one win. “You’ve got a full house. It’s great to see the type of passion with the Detroit crowd. Our guys, they want the crowds to come back and they want to give them a reason to come back. There’s a direct correlation between having a lot of people in the seats and our guys saying, ‘Give us a chance. We’re going to fight for you and we’re going to make you proud.’ I think they did it tonight. We have to continue to do it to show the fans there’s good reason to support their team.”

This much is sure: The Pistons wouldn’t have won this game a month ago, not only because it was against an elite NBA team, but because the game kept throwing roadblocks at the Pistons. In January, they wouldn’t have had the confidence needed to keep taking the fight to a team as talented, experienced and tested as this one.

The Lakers took a 12-point lead four minutes into the second quarter? The Pistons closed the second half on a 20-4 run. The Pistons missed their first 14 shots of the second half and scored nine points in the third quarter to fall behind by seven again? They roared back in the fourth quarter to take a late lead. The Lakers forced overtime when Kobe Bryant – who else? – drained a cold-blooded 19-footer over Tayshaun Prince at the buzzer? The Pistons counterpunched in overtime behind Rodney Stuckey, who finished with 34 points and carried them offensively.

“We’re happy we won,” he said. “We appreciate our fans coming out to support us tonight. It was a phenomenal crowd out there. It was loud; it was rocking. Hopefully, we can get a lot more games like that. But it’s just a stepping stone. We kept fighting. We only scored nine points in the third quarter, but that didn’t stop us. Fourth quarter, we got back together. Kobe made a phenomenal shot, but in overtime we just stuck together and got the victory.”

Stuckey’s night started in muted tones. Frank assigned him to guard Bryant and he picked up two fouls in seven minutes doing so, going to the bench with two points. But after Ben Gordon kept the Pistons from being blown out as the Lakers’ lead stretched to double digits, Stuckey scored 10 second-quarter points as the Pistons – taking advantage of a weak Lakers bench and terrific play from Ben Wallace, Jonas Jerebko and Damien Wilkins in addition to Gordon off their bench – closed the first half on a 20-4 run for a 45-41 halftime lead.

The Pistons won on a night Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, the two young stars who represent so much of their future, shot a combined 1 of 16 and didn’t play much down the stretch, another measure of how far they’ve come in the last month. (Monroe, bothered by the Lakers’ interior length, just missed some shots he normally makes, rushing some. But he did grab 15 rebounds in 26 minutes.) After a 4-20 start, the Pistons are 9-6 in their last 15 games.

Gordon finished with 15 and Jerebko, Prince and Jason Maxiell with 10 apiece. Bryant had 22, shooting 8 of 26 with Wilkins doing an unsung job on him, especially in the second quarter. Big men Andrew Bynum (30 points, 14 rebounds) and Pau Gasol combined for 50 points and 24 boards. But outside of their big three, the Lakers got just 13 other points from four other scorers.

“We got off to a slow start, but the second group came in – the second group has been doing a great job of picking up the energy, whether it’s defense or creating some turnovers, getting out on the fast break, and they did that,” Prince said. “Ben Gordon got us going and that’s what got us going. When the second group does what they did, it gives you a chance to win the game.”

Giving themselves a chance to win and winning are two different things, of course, and a month ago the Pistons likely wouldn’t have closed the loop.

“We’ve increased our intensity,” Frank said. “We expect to win now when we take the court. We expect, when we get to the moment of truth – the last six minutes of the game – for it to be anyone’s game.”

“It was just a total team effort tonight,” Stuckey said. “Maxiell did a phenomenal job. (Wallace) did a great job out there guarding Bynum and Gasol. Jonas did a good job coming off the bench giving us some points. BG did a phenomenal job, as well. We’re just trying to get more victories for the city of Detroit.”