Out of Gas

Numbers tell the story: Fatigue, Knicks overwhelm Pistons

TEAM COLORS

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

– In the long run, maybe the toe injury that pushed Rodney Stuckey to the sidelines for a few games in the midst of his best streak of basketball will benefit the Pistons. In the short term, it at least seems to have rejuvenated Ben Gordon. The Pistons lost their fifth straight game as fatigue seemed to envelop them, their bodies acknowledging the toll that a road-heavy schedule, plus their third game in four nights, has exacted, falling 101-79 to the Knicks. But Gordon, who scored 45 in Denver two games ago when Stuckey first sat out due to a painful toe injury, again had his perimeter stroke working. Gordon gave the Pistons 20 points, draining 4 of 6 3-pointers despite having to force one to beat the shot clock.

BLUE COLLAR – The Knicks committed 14 turnovers in the first half and still led by 12. That loudly suggests there were leaks elsewhere. The biggest one was on the backboards, where Tyson Chandler’s 14 first-half rebounds equaled the Pistons’ team total. The Knicks more than doubled up the Pistons (37-17) in the first half and finished with a 54-30 edge. Chandler finished with 17 boards, five on the offensive end.

RED FLAG – The Pistons scored 115 points in the first game that Rodney Stuckey missed last week, but their offense has spun its wheels without him the past two games. They scored just 73 points in Friday’s loss to Miami, a season-best defensive mark for the Heat, and were limited to 79 in Saturday’s loss to the Knicks, who give up 96 on average. The Pistons shot just 37 percent and without Stuckey’s ability to get into the lane and force fouls, the Knicks held a 30-13 advantage in free throws attempted through three quarters, though the gap tightened in a fourth quarter played by the two benches.

NEW YORK – The equation that’s worked so often against the Pistons this season failed to work in their favor when the numbers indicated it should have. Turnovers have been a Pistons bugaboo this season, especially early as they tripped to a 4-20 start, and most recently on Friday night when Miami forced 23 Pistons miscues.

So how come when the Pistons harassed the Knicks into 14 first-half turnovers Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the hosts still went to the locker room with a 12-point cushion? Easy: Check the rebounding numbers. Check the free throws. Check the shooting percentages.

The Knicks dominated across the board, overwhelming the Pistons on the backboards 54-30, getting to the foul line more than twice as often until the fourth quarter when the game was well out of hand, and shooting over 50 percent until the final moments while the Pistons never got to 40.

All signs pointed to a fatigued team, befitting the schedule of one that started the week in Los Angeles, stopped over in Denver and Detroit ever so briefly and parachuted into New York in the wee hours Saturday morning to face a team that had won five of six since swapping out head coaches, Mike Woodson in for Mike D’Antoni.

Coaches and players never like to admit the schedule at times is the greater opponent, but when loose balls fly past their fingertips for 48 minutes the evidence is hard to ignore.

“Yeah, man, guys are definitely tired,” Ben Gordon agreed after the 101-79 loss, their fifth straight and third in a row without Rodney Stuckey, nursing a painful left big toe injury. “The schedule is kind of tough. Everybody has their points in this kind of season where it’s like your body is going to be tired or just drained. I think that’s what we’re going through a little bit right now. We’ve got to figure out a way to get over the hump. The travel is crazy. We’ve just got to figure out how to come together, work through it, get better and win some games.”

Gordon scored 20 points, hitting 4 of 6 from the 3-point arc, two games after he lit up Denver for 45. Greg Monroe added 12, but the absence of Stuckey was glaring. The Knicks outshot the Pistons 30-13 at the foul line through three quarters, an area where Stuckey often changes the game.

“He was in a heck of a groove in that run,” Monroe said. “He was definitely playing with aggression and he was enforcing his will on the game. When you’ve had a run like that and then a guy is out, you have to readjust. Hopefully, he’ll get back soon but we still have to play these games.”

The Knicks, who also played Friday night and had to travel from Toronto, weren’t any sharper than the Pistons for most of the night, finishing with 22 turnovers. But they appeared far fresher, as best evidenced by the rebounding numbers. The Knicks had nearly as many offensive rebounds (18) as the Pistons had on the defensive (22) end.

“They basically owned the paint tonight,” Monroe said. “Rebounding, scoring in the paint. I think they had seven and-ones (baskets plus fouls on the Pistons). That’s not typical of us. We have to be better in that area.”

“They dominated the paint,” Lawrence Frank said, rattling off the numbers, including 52-30 in paint scoring. “It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to give them credit. They were definitely the aggressors in the paint.”

Five Knicks scored between 13 and 17 points with Tyson Chandler’s impressive double-double – 15 points, 17 boards – leading the assault at the rim. The All-Star frontcourt of Chandler, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony combined for 47 points and 28 rebounds despite the fact the Knicks didn’t play a single starter for a single minute of the fourth quarter.

Frank aired his bench out a little, too, in part out of necessity. Stuckey was joined in street clothes by Will Bynum, who missed the game with a virus, elevating Walker Russell to first guard off the bench. Austin Daye scored seven points in 16 minutes and Charlie Villanueva recorded his first points of the season, scoring five points in six minutes.

The Pistons get a welcome day off Sunday with a short flight to Washington giving them perhaps a chance to find their legs. They also hope to have both Stuckey and Bynum back for Monday’s game. Not a moment too soon.