Clipped in LA
LOS ANGELES – Just how much Rodney Stuckey in attack mode means to the Pistons became starkly evident on Sunday. That’s because he wasn’t there as the Pistons lost in overtime to the Clippers.
Oh, Rodney Stuckey was in uniform, logging 35 minutes in an overtime loss. But it wasn’t the Stuckey of the last six weeks, the one who’d finally rounded into shape after a rushed training camp and preseason led to an early-season groin injury. It wasn’t the Stuckey averaging nearly 25 points a game and scoring with great efficiency since the All-Star break.
In a game that was theirs for the taking, a limping Stuckey translated to an impotent Pistons offense. They managed only nine points in the fourth quarter, opening the door that should have been slammed hard in the face of a Los Angeles Clippers team that had nothing much beyond Chris Paul’s magic tricks going for them.
That was the difference in the 87-83 loss: The Clippers know exactly who they are and what their formula for winning is. It’s all about Paul, who racked up seven fast assists to stake the Clippers to a 10-point lead and then, when his teammates let him down and he needed to score, put up nine of his 19 points – and nine of the Clippers’ 13 points – in overtime, hitting three long jump shots.
“For us, every game is a little bit different,” Lawrence Frank said. “It’s who has a game going? … They know they’re giving it to Chris Paul and you’re just going to play pick and roll. For us, we’re learning in terms of developing a closing mentality and we’ll get there.”
Stuckey hurt his foot in a vintage performance Wednesday night at Sacramento, when he scored 35 points on 18 shots, getting to the foul line 12 times. The pain in that foot kept him passive and on the perimeter Sunday, with his misses in a 1 of 8 performance coming almost exclusively on jump shots.
“Rodney was hurting throughout the game,” Frank said. “He gave us what he could. It was just too much pain.”
Stuckey, who declined comment, sat with his head down and his left foot plunged into a bucket of ice water in the locker room.
“He’s a big part of our offense,” Greg Monroe said. “I know it’s been something that’s been nagging him a little bit. Hopefully, he’ll get better.”
With Stuckey out of character and Brandon Knight (3 of 14, 0 of 7 from the 3-point arc) and Ben Gordon (3 of 11, 0 of 2) also misfiring, Monroe and Tayshaun Prince were left to carry the offense, combining for 43 points – more than half of the Pistons’ total.
Jonas Jerebko made a big impact off the bench, though, with 14 points and eight boards, and bodies started flying not long after he entered with the Pistons behind by six points late in the first quarter. Jerebko took three shots to the face over the course of the game, but his fearless play helped turn the tide for the Pistons, who outscored the Clippers 44-20 from late in the first quarter to midway through the third – when their offense started spinning its wheels.
That’s about when Prince, who had gone 8 of 11, began his 1 of 6 stretch to finish, including some tough-luck misses in the final minutes of regulation. He finished with 20 points and seven boards. Monroe finished with 23 points and 15 boards, 15 and 11 after halftime. When the Clippers went small late, Monroe had success in the post against Blake Griffin, and Frank was asked if the Pistons should have gone to him earlier.
“It’s a fair question,” he said. “Tay had a good game. Basically, we were just playing Tay and Greg together. When we posted Greg, he was successful, so you look at it and say, yeay, maybe we should have done that.”
If Stuckey had been hale – Frank eventually took him out a minute into overtime when he couldn’t push off to step toward a pass intended for him that resulted in a turnover – there wouldn’t have been nearly as much need to search for answers offensively. That’s how much he’s meant to their recovery from a 4-20 team to one that’s played winning basketball over the last six weeks.