Toronto Toppled

Pistons place a premium on winning for future in late-season push

TEAM COLORS

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

– The Pistons got two days off after a dizzying stretch that saw them play six games in eight days, but it appeared that they went directly from fatigued to rusty. Held to 29 first-half points by the Toronto Raptors, the Pistons got their offense going in the second half for a 76-73 win. Brandon Knight and Ben Gordon combined for 30 second-half points and scored 16 consecutive fourth-quarter points. A Gordon triple with under three minutes left gave them a 71-68 lead they wouldn’t lose. The Pistons might have caught a break in the last 20 seconds when Greg Monroe appeared to goaltend an Alan Anderson runner with the Pistons leading by a point. The Pistons survived another Anderson miss to tie before Gordon hit a free throw to give them a 3-point lead with 3.2 seconds left and than a Linas Kleiza triple at the buzzer.

BLUE COLLAR – When both teams spend most of the night shooting within a few percentage points of 30, there are lots of rebounds to be had. Greg Monroe was the guy who grabbed far more of them than anybody else with 17. Monroe didn’t get many scoring chances as Toronto did a good job of sealing off interior passing lanes but that allowed Rodney Stuckey, Brandon Knight and Ben Gordon many opportunities to penetrate and force Raptors big men to come off of Monroe, who again showed his nose for the ball by grabbing five offensive rebounds.

RED FLAG – How often do you see an NBA game where the leading scorer at halftime has five points? That’s what happened for the Pistons against Toronto. Pistons starters combined to make just five first-half shots and their leading scorers at the break with Tayshaun Prince and Greg Monroe with five each. The Pistons shot 27 percent in the first half, but almost 50 percent – 16 of 34 – in the second half.

The more immediate impact of the Pistons’ 76-73 win over Toronto on Sunday will be felt on draft night, when Detroit – barring a lottery jackpot – will now almost certainly be picking behind the Raptors and a cluster of other teams with winning totals at or near 20.

The more lasting impact, the Pistons believe to their core, will come down the road, when the fealty to winning they showed in the formative stages of Lawrence Frank’s regime will pay dividends as they drive to become a playoff team and, beyond that, an NBA title contender.

“Anytime you can win and get any kind of positive feel from winning, there’s always value in that,” said Ben Gordon, who led a Chicago playoff charge before joining the Pistons three seasons ago. “You might not make the playoffs, but you still want to grind it out to the very end and take every game like it’s your last. That’s what playoff teams do and that’s how you develop into a playoff team – by trying to win every game.”

Gordon was the night’s star, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Pistons overcame a brutal first half in which they scored 29 points to get the win that leaves them at 24-40, two wins clear of the Raptors and New Jersey Nets and tied with Golden State with two games to play.

“It was a rugged game, nasty,” Tayshaun Prince said. “Neither team could really find a rhythm. The flow wasn’t there on both ends. Just a nasty game. It was just a matter of who was going to make the right plays down the stretch. Ben Gordon caught a rhythm at a perfect time for us. Ben Gordon kind of saved the day.”

“Without Ben, we don’t win the game,” Frank said. “Ben was very, very good tonight.”

Gordon did his fourth-quarter scoring in threes, converting two and-one situations and drilling a triple with 2:44 left that put the Pistons ahead for good at 71-68. Toronto had three chances to tie or take the lead in the final 23 seconds, but Alan Anderson missed a 7-foot runner – the Raptors had a solid argument that Greg Monroe could have been whistled for goaltending on the play – and a 3-pointer that would have put the Raptors ahead and Linas Kleiza had a clean look from 28 feet to tie at the buzzer on a play the Pistons intended to foul.

That they didn’t – though Jonas Jerebko certainly did enough to give the officials reason to blow their whistle – gives Frank something more to file away and pull out next fall when the Pistons convene for training camp. The Pistons aren’t going to the playoffs, but Frank looks at the last two games as eight more end-of-quarter situations to soak up experience and give everybody a shot at going into the summer feeling good about the future.

“It’s another thing to log and continue to work on,” Frank said. “When we start next year, we’re going to have a lot of different special situations that have happened to us, both good and bad, to incorporate into everything we do.”

Both of their young franchise pillars, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, had positive takeaways Sunday. Monroe didn’t get many scoring chances, but the 17 boards he grabbed were seven more than anyone on either team. Knight repeatedly took the ball to the basket, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the second half, just as Gordon did, and getting to the line six times.

“Brandon’s rack attacks – think about the last two games; he took a lot of jump shots. So his ability to get into the paint was great,” Frank said. “Greg’s rebounding, encouraging. Within these games, even though we’re not going to the playoffs, you still have to have the game within the game, some mini-goals of improvement, so you can build, both individually and team momentum, going into the off-season.”

“It’s definitely important,” Prince said of finishing strong. “If you’re not going to the playoffs, you want to finish on a good note and at least play some good basketball just to kind of ease your mind a little bit going into the off-season.”