Stomp and Romp

Knight’s finishing kick leads Pistons to 39-point rout of Cavs

TEAM COLORS

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

– You know it’s a good night when Greg Monroe records his 29th double-double midway through the third quarter and it’s among the game’s least notable achievements. The Pistons dominated Cleveland from the get-go Tuesday, leading by 23 at halftime and by 50 – yes, 50 – through three quarters, settling for a 116-77 win. Nobody was hotter than Brandon Knight, who scored 28 points despite not playing the fourth quarter, making 11 of 12 shots and 4 of 5 from the 3-point line, his only miss rolling around the rim and off after he’d made his first six tries. Five other Pistons scored in double figures as they shot 60 percent and held Cleveland to 35 percent.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons led by 11 after one quarter, but any chance Cleveland had to make the game competitive evaporated when the Pistons’ second unit got after the Cavs defensively and picked up the game’s tempo by forcing six turnovers in outscoring the Cavs by 12 in the second quarter. Charlie Villanueva and Jonas Jerebko scored eight points each, both shooting 3 of 3, as Ben Gordon went 2 of 3 and added seven points. The bench scored 26 points in the quarter and made 75 percent of its shots. Will Bynum played a terrific four minutes, spearheading the defensive pressure, while scoring three points, dishing out two assists and stealing an offensive rebound off a missed free throw that resulted in a four-point possession.

RED FLAG – Lawrence Frank hoped to get a good long look at Jonas Jerebko at small forward in this one, but foul trouble to power forwards Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva in the first half limited his opportunity to get a solid appraisal of Jerebko at that position. Only three of his nine first-half minutes came at small forward after Maxiell got tagged for his third foul with 6:47 left in the second quarter and sat out the remainder of the first half. Jerebko didn’t get to play much at small forward in the fourth quarter, either, when Frank’s lineup consisted of Villanueva, Austin Daye, Damien Wilkins and Walker Russell around him.

The fire in the belly his team showed in a crushing overtime loss to Chicago pleased Lawrence Frank. But it didn’t necessarily surprise him. He was more curious to gauge their resolve against a team on their plane.

Check.

If they’d have counted Cleveland baskets double, it would have been a tie game headed to the fourth quarter. Instead, the Pistons led 100-50.

“For Chicago, you know you’re going to get up for that, but when you have a team that has a comparable record, where neither team is going to the playoffs, you always want to see how your guys come out and compete,” Frank said after the 116-77 win, the most lopsided Pistons win since a 45-point whipping of Milwaukee on Dec. 31, 2007. “I thought our guys came out with the right spirit and energy and played a complete basketball game.”

He’ll feel even better when he hears what his ascendant rookie point guard, Brandon Knight, said when somebody asked him how it felt to be up 50 after three quarters – a margin achieved on Knight’s slam dunk at the third-quarter buzzer to give him a career-best 28 points before he and the rest of the starters took the fourth quarter off.

“It means nothing, really,” Knight said after a game in which his only miss in 12 tries was a third-quarter triple that was halfway in but rimmed out. “You enjoy it while you can, but we have a game tomorrow. It really means nothing to be up by 50. We want to continue to look at what we did well tonight and make sure it translates over to tomorrow when we play the Hawks, a playoff team and they’re playing pretty well. We just want to continue to build and get better.”

If Knight bumped up against the rookie wall at times, he’s barged through it and is sprinting to the finish line. Pistons scouts thought Knight was college basketball’s fastest player a season ago. Now he’s figuring out how to harness that speed.

“I think the game is just slowing down for him,” said Greg Monroe, who racked up his 29th double-double (12 points, 13 boards) while adding four steals and three assists, the last a gorgeous end-to-end dash punctuated by Knight’s buzzer-beating dunk. “It takes a little time to get all the way acclimated to the NBA game and he’s getting to that point where he’s real comfortable and the game is slower. The first few months in the league, everything is moving at 100 miles an hour. Everything has just slowed down for him and that’s what you’re seeing right now.”

“It has,” Knight acknowledged. “I know what to look for. I’m not as sped up. Sometimes I do play a little bit faster than I should. That’s something I’m working on throughout these last couple of games is just slowing down and knowing exactly what I’m looking for.”

Knight has had seven or more assists in four straight games, but in Frank’s offense and with Rodney Stuckey in the backcourt with him, assist totals could swing from game to game. Knight gets it. He’ll bring all questions about his progress back to the one stat that makes his pulse race: wins.

“If the Pistons become what the Pistons used to be as far as competing for a championship and I’m averaging two assists, that’s fine with me,” he said. “I just want to make the team better. Whatever it takes. If that’s getting more assists, I’ll do that. But at the end of the day, it’s about the amount of wins more than the amount of assists I have at the end of the game.”

Knight had plenty of help, of course, as you’d expect in a game that leans so heavily to one side. Five other Pistons scored in double figures on a night they shot 60 percent and held the Cavs to 35 percent. Cleveland had mitigating circumstances, playing its fourth game in five nights and going with only nine players in uniform as Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, Alonzo Gee and Daniel Gibson all sat out with injuries on a night the Cavs lost by 39, which matches the pounding Chicago gave them earlier this season for their lowest moment.

“I give the Pistons a lot of credit,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “They played 10 times harder than we did and were ready to play from the start of the game to the finish.”

“It means a lot to us,” Monroe said of a finishing kick to the season. “We want to finish strong. We’re still focused.”