Better, Not Enough
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.