Happy Homecoming

Pistons persevere in comeback OT win over Bobcats

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

– The Pistons came dangerously close to losing at home to the NBA’s worst team, needing a 12-4 closing rush in the final 1:50 of regulation to force overtime and overtake the Charlotte Bobcats. A Brandon Knight triple with 1:50 left followed by a Greg Monroe steal and layup that became a three-point play 18 seconds later cut an eight-point deficit to two, then Will Bynum’s triple with 16 seconds left forced overtime. Bynum and Jonas Jerebko had big nights for the Pistons, again without guards Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon. Bynum finished with 17 points, while Jerebko scored 18 points with five rebounds and three assists. Tayshaun Prince had 24 points and nine boards for the Pistons. The Pistons survived two 3-point tries to tie in the final five seconds of overtime, including the first, by Byron Mullens, that went in and out.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons’ bench had a rough go of it Friday night at Chicago, shooting 3 of 21 and playing a central role as the Pistons struggled to 10-point outputs in both the second and fourth quarters. They were much sharper offensively Saturday against Charlotte, shooting 19 of 28 and providing 47 points. The bench was particularly good in the first half, combining for 24 points on 11 of 13 shooting. Lawrence Frank rewarded them with big minutes in the second half as the Pistons clawed back from an 11-point deficit.

RED FLAG – The Pistons held Charlotte to 36 percent shooting and 17 points in the first quarter, but they allowed the league’s worst team – and the lowest-scoring team – to shoot nearly 60 percent in the middle two quarters to take control of the game. The Pistons have gotten steadily better defensively, particularly since February, but they gave up far too many uncontested shots to a team that lacks much in the way of scorers who can create their own offense. The Bobcats finished at 46.5 percent and the 97 they scored in regulation were nearly 10 over their average.

The latest Pistons win provides an object lesson in the power of perseverance. Down eight points with less than two minutes left, they rallied to win, the biggest shot – the one that got them to overtime – delivered by an undrafted player who toiled in Europe for a shot at a Summer League invitation that led to a role as the No. 3 point guard.

Will Bynum, given a shot as lingering injuries kept Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon sidelined, hit the game-tying triple with 16 seconds left in regulation. But it wasn’t only Bynum, who the night before didn’t make a shot in eight tries in a loss at Chicago, who displayed the qualities of stick-to-it-tiveness that is what Lawrence Frank wishes the Pistons to embody.

It was Brandon Knight, too, who made his only two 3-pointers of the game in the final two minutes. And it was Greg Monroe, a big man who stripped a guard of the basketball at mid-court after the first of Knight’s late salvos, converting a steal into a three-point play that pulled the Pistons within two points. It was Jonas Jerebko, who missed all of last season with an Achilles tendon injury but played so well Frank couldn’t take him out of the lineup down the stretch of what became a 110-107 Pistons win over Charlotte.

Ultimately, it was a collective effort whose roots go back to the misery of the 4-20 start, when Frank refused to let the misery sink their boat and he got 13 players on board with helping him bail water.

“We’re getting together,” Jerebko said after an 18-point, five-rebound, three-assist game – the biggest assist the feed to set up Bynum’s triple, Jerebko passing on an open three of his own. “Starting to trust each other more. We’ve got some new guys on the team, new coach, new system. It’s all falling together.”

“To show the fight and the grit, especially since we’ve been on the flip side of those where we’ve had some wins stolen from us,” Frank said. “To me, it’s how we got those buckets. You think about the trust we had – Will on a dribble handoff to (Tayshaun Prince), Tay making the next play to Brandon, and then the trust from Tay to Jonas, Jonas to Will. I just like how we found those shots. They weren’t forced shots; they were rhythm shots in pressure moments.”

Jerebko, on a night he made 8 of 11 shots, was on his tiptoes about the take the triple when he spotted Bynum to his left.

“I was just about to shoot it,” Jerebko grinned, “and a guy started running out on me, so I looked to my left and we had two guys more open than me. It was not a hard decision – trust in Will, I knew he was going to make it. It was in the back of my mind (to shoot) – it was almost gone. I would have made it, too, but I thought Will could have it.”

“It’s just a matter of opportunity and minutes and being in the right place at the right time and putting work in and those moments happen,” said Bynum, who scored 20 points in a January loss to Dallas but has only been in double figures twice since then. “Coach told me to go out there and just leave it all out on the court and play as hard as I can. I was just playing the way I know how to play. I haven’t been on the floor all season at the end of the game. I thought I was dreaming.”

“Will prepares every day,” Frank said. “Even though he was out of the rotation, he still was very diligent about putting time in. He’s in shape. You can’t just play those minutes and not be in condition. It’s a credit to Will that he stayed ready when his number was called tonight and he delivered.”

Knight’s two 3-pointers came just 43 seconds apart, the rookie showing the aplomb in big moments that earned him his reputation as a closer last year as a Kentucky freshman.

“Brandon is not afraid,” Frank said. “On a night his shot wasn’t really going, to step up … that’s a big part of how to succeed in this league, the belief that you’re a damn good player. You have to, because there are so many good players here, you have to maintain belief, even in the toughest of moments.”

It’s a quality the Pistons have flashed twice in a week now, scoring a road win Monday at Washington when nothing went their way for the game’s first 45 minutes and coming back despite their road weariness to win at The Palace to make it a very happy homecoming, indeed.