Better, Not Enough

Pistons show progress, but Denver 2nd-chance points too much to overcome


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

White Hot – There were good signs amid the Pistons’ fourth straight loss – a 109-97 setback that was tied as late as midway through the third quarter – but nothing more encouraging than the offensive emergence of Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey. Heavy favorites to be the team’s leading scorers for the season, Monroe was fourth at 10.7 and Stuckey an unimaginable 10th at 3.3 through three games. Monroe finished with 27 points and nine rebounds and Stuckey with 17 points. Stuckey didn’t shoot it well (5 of 17), but played much more aggressively at both ends and much more closely resembled the player the Pistons expect him to be. Denver hurt the Pistons on the offensive glass and at the 3-point line, pulling away from a tie midway through the third quarter to win its home opener after both teams began the season 0-3.

BLUE COLLAR – Lawrence Frank’s bench continues to provide encouraging signs. They were instrumental in helping turn the game around early after the Pistons fell behind 15-5 midway through the first quarter. Kyle Singler (nine points), Kim English (six points despite not playing in the second half), Jonas Jerebko (11 points, six rebounds), Andre Drummond (seven points, two rebounds) and Will Bynum (eight assists) all contributed. English hit a couple of triples and made a handful of smart defensive plays. Singler’s persistence in running the floor creates scoring chances for him and others. Jerebko played a typical Jerebko game – constant movement and hustle. Bynum and Drummond continued to display chemistry on high pick-and-roll plays.

RED FLAG – The Pistons came into the game knowing Denver liked to score at the 3-point line and near the rim, either in transition or by getting a defense caught in rotations that create driving and passing lanes. But knowing it and doing something about it proved tough to reconcile. The Nuggets scored a whopping 84 percent of their 58 first-half points – when they shot 56 percent – either in the paint (34) or from the arc (15). Denver hurt the Pistons with points off turnovers (19) and really beat them up on the offensive glass (20), which accounted for a good chunk of their 26 second-chance points and 56 points in the paint. The Nuggets finished with 30 points at the 3-point line.

DENVER – It was midway through the third quarter when Jason Maxiell’s 15-foot jump shot brought the Pistons all square with Denver at 67. When JaVale McGee missed on Denver’s end and the Pistons pushed ahead in transition, they had a chance to take the lead. Instead, a turnover and a Danilo Gallinari 3-pointer later, they were down again and on their way to a 109-97 loss.

Story of the game: missed opportunities. It wasn’t nearly the across-the-board breakdown that undermined whatever chance the Pistons had to beat the winless Lakers two nights earlier, but in the areas where the Pistons – still winless themselves, now 0-4 – did break down, they were back breakers.

Denver did what the Nuggets do – shot 3-pointers with impunity (30 of ’em, making 10), ran and got into the paint. They scored 56 of their points there, too many of them after grabbing a whopping 21 offensive rebounds. The Nuggets also scored 19 points off of 15 Pistons turnovers.

“The game came down to offensive rebounds and their penetration – and there was a direct correlation,” Lawrence Frank said. “Getting beat off the dribble in help situations, don’t have a hat on a hat or a body on a body. When you’re playing Denver, it’s always a no-paint game and they won that battle tonight and won the game.”

Greg Monroe came into the game averaging under 11 points in the first three games, but came out of it with 27 points and nine rebounds. Rodney Stuckey looked much more like the attacking, assertive player the Pistons are accustomed to seeing, scoring 17 points even if his shot still wasn’t falling with normal regularity. The Pistons piled up 26 assists on their 35 baskets, 17 of them from point guards Brandon Knight (nine) and Will Bynum, a clear sign they were getting the desired ball movement.

But there was just no atoning for the battering they took on the offensive glass, the Pistons barely winning (27-21) the battle for rebounds at their defensive end on a night they were pummeled 52-35 on the boards.

“That’s something that coming into the game, we knew that was a big part of their success,” Monroe said. “We have to do a better job against any team controlling the boards. We do have to guard on the ball better; help side has to be better, also, but we definitely have to get better at guarding one-on-one basketball first and then letting the help be a second option instead of a first option.”

Rookie Andre Drummond had some nice moments – saving one possession with a 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down and hooking up with Will Bynum on a pair of lob plays – but also got caught out of position a few times while Denver players split seams for offensive boards.

“A lot of their bigs are really long and athletic,” he said. “JaVale McGee, 7-footer and has like a 50-inch vertical. If you don’t block him out, he’s going to dunk the ball over your head. Kenneth Faried just works hard and if you don’t get face to face with him, he’s just going to run around until he gets to the ball. That’s what got the best of us today – second-chance points and not blocking out.”

The Pistons fought back from an early 15-5 deficit with strong play from their second unit to tie late in the first quarter and again from seven behind to tie on Maxiell’s jumper. A nine-point deficit to end the third turned into a 17-point hole before a final rally pulled them within seven points with 3:33 left on a Jonas Jerebko steal and dunk.

“We made some strides in some areas, but they’re a transition, drive-and-kick team and they were able to play to it,” Frank said. “Penetration and second shots were the big story of the game.

“I want to win the game and to win the game we’ve got to be better defending their penetration and we’ve got to be better (at limiting) second-chance points. Was the spirit in the right place? Yeah, but it’s the discipline to be able to do the job and that’s what we’ve got to continue to grind and get better. They were better at doing it offensively than we were defensively.”

The grind continues on Wednesday in Sacramento with the Pistons at the mid-point of the season’s longest road trip, a flourish that finishes with four games in five nights, hoping that the progress they revealed in the thin mountain air will translate to a win or two before they see The Palace again.