Finishing Kick

TEAM COLORS

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

– It wasn’t as easy as it might have been, given the absence of Dwight Howard and two other Orlando starters, but the Pistons finally pulled away from a game that saw 16 lead changes and eight ties through three quarters by opening the fourth with a 19-6 run on their way to a 102-95 win. The Pistons, since opening the season 4-20, are now 16-13 in their last 29 games. Greg Monroe racked up his team-leading 26th double-double of the season, giving the Pistons 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Ben Gordon returned from a three-game absence with a groin strain to play 35 strong minutes with 18 points, six rebounds and a game-high seven assists.

BLUE COLLAR – Jonas Jerebko’s father, Chris, arrived from Sweden in time to catch a good one for his son. Jonas came off the bench to contribute 13 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes, shooting 5 of 8, with two misses shot-clock forces. He made some big plays in the fourth quarter when the Pistons pulled away, starting by hitting a 3-pointer to open the quarter and break a 74-all time. Later, he worked a give-and-go with Ben Wallace for a layup, then seconds later forced an Orlando turnover that resulted in a Brandon Knight layup to give the Pistons an 11-point lead.

RED FLAG – Maybe the Pistons lost a little of their edge once they found out Orlando would be without three starters in Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson and Jameer Nelson, arguably their three most important offensive weapons and inarguably their defensive anchor. They struggled to shake Orlando all night, never leading by more than five in the first half and failing to put them away after opening the third quarter on an 8-0 run. The Pistons helped Orlando stick around by allowing 22 points off of turnovers over the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, when the Magic didn’t get any points off of turnovers, the Pistons outscored them 28-21.

The Pistons hung three NBA championship banners in The Palace rafters on the wings of a formula that Lawrence Frank is certain to use in his quest to add to that total. It’s a formula that calls for committee work not only on the defensive end, but on the other side of half-court, as well.

He might want to frame the box score from Tuesday’s 102-95 win over Orlando. In winning their 20th game of the season – and their 16th in the last 29 tries after the 4-20 start when they all required name tags and cheat sheets – all five Pistons starters attempted between 11 and 13 shots. All five finished in double figures. Not by coincidence, they combined to shoot 60 percent.

“Any time you get a team, anywhere in the league, that can have that kind of shot distribution, that kind of point production from the guys in the starting lineup, that’s always to their benefit,” Ben Gordon said on a night he returned from a three-game injury absence to score 18 points, dish seven assists and grab six rebounds. “It’s always best when the other team doesn’t know who’s going to have the hot hand or who’s going to make a big shot. When we play like that and share the basketball that way, it’s to our advantage.”

The Pistons finished with 25 assists on their 43 baskets in shooting 57 percent, but it wasn’t an easy win. The Pistons were without Rodney Stuckey – who worked hard for a solid hour before the game and might be inching closer to his own return from injury – but Orlando played without three starters: All-Star Dwight Howard, point guard Jameer Nelson and 3-point sniper Ryan Anderson. Without Howard, the Pistons dominated the glass (45-30) and points in the paint (56-30), but it was far from an easy win.

There were 16 lead changes and eight ties, the last one evaporating on a 3-pointer from Jonas Jerebko to start the fourth quarter. Indeed, for all the good work Pistons starters did, the Pistons pulled away with a 19-6 run to start the fourth when Brandon Knight was out with four of Frank’s reserves. Jerebko finished with 13 points and five boards, Will Bynum with six points and five assists, and Ben Wallace blocked two shots and grabbed six rebounds to become the 21st player in NBA history with 7,000 defensive rebounds.

“Our second unit was great in the start of the fourth quarter,” said Tayshaun Prince, who had 15 points and six rebounds, adding to both columns with a big tip-in of a Knight triple attempt with 1:40 left that gave the Pistons a 97-89 lead. “Made shots, picked up the defensive energy and that’s what got us through the game.”

“That second unit with Brandon on the floor really gave us great separation,” Frank said. “Really put together some super multiple-effort defensive plays and a lot of guys stepped up and played well.”

Orlando, the league’s most prolific 3-point team, made three triples down the stretch to stay within arm’s reach, but the Pistons were too efficient offensively to keep the Magic’s door of opportunity open forever. Only Knight, who shot 5 of 12, didn’t make at least half his shots among the starters. Greg Monroe hit 9 of 11 to finish with 22 points and 11 boards. Jason Maxiell matched Prince’s 15 points.

“We don’t care who scores,” Jerebko said. “We’ve got a lot of scorers on our team who can put up numbers. We’re not really worried about one guy getting shots. We’re just getting the open man. We did that today and just moved the ball.”

“We were just moving the ball real effectively,” Prince said, “moving their defense from one side to the other. Greg was doing a good job of getting the ball inside and making decisions. BG played a great all-around game coming off pick and rolls, making good reads. Just good all-around play by everybody. When you win, that’s how you want to play.”

It’s the way Frank would always choose to play.

“That’s the way we want to play,” he said. “From a coaching and playing standpoint, when everyone’s involved there’s just a deeper-seated commitment as opposed to watching one guy play and four guys standing.”