Comeback Comes Up Short
Four games into a six-game road trip, five games into a season still in search of its first win, the only solace a stat sheet can now provide the Pistons is when it shows their point total as greater than that of their opponent.
“We got really close, but we have to find a way to push through,” Monroe said after the first triple-double of both his career and the NBA season: 21 points, 12 boards, 11 assists. “We did a lot of things well, but we have to focus on the defensive end. Like coach Frank said, we scored over 100 points; we should win the game. That’s point blank. So we have to find a way to focus on defense.”
Frank deflected any attempt to steer the line of postgame questioning from any attempt to talk about an impressive offensive showing in a 105-103 loss to Sacramento to what he saw as flawed defense.
“It comes down to this: Until we have a defensive mindset, it’s going to be very hard for us to win,” he said. “For those of you who like the stat sheet, you wind up with 103 points, you shoot 49 percent, you shoot 36 percent from three, you have 23 assists, you get to the free-throw line 31 times – and you lose. Six guys in double figures – and you lose. … It comes down to this: We have to commit, every single guy who steps on the floor, to defending.”
“That’s our defense,” said Jonas Jerebko, squinting through a right eye almost closed from a poke by Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans. “When you score that many points, you should be able to get a win. You just have to get stops.”
Jerebko also was involved in a fourth-quarter incident with Kings rookie Thomas Robinson, No. 5 pick in last June’s draft, that resulted in Robinson’s ejection for throwing a vicious elbow at Jerebko’s throat.
“It’s in the heat of the game. Stuff happens,” Jerebko said, shrugging. “Nothing more than that.”
The Pistons showed that kind of fight, coming from 10 points down in the second half to get within three in the final two minutes, but that fight somehow didn’t translate into defensive tenacity. When the Kings needed to score, they did. When the Pistons needed a stop … the Kings scored.
“We scored enough points to win, but we gave up a lot more than we should have,” said Kyle Singler, the rookie forward who continues to earn Frank’s trust, scoring12 points off the bench and playing the final 14 straight minutes. “The ways we’ve got to improve, the areas – second-chance opportunities, rebounding and just defending one-on-one situations. That’s basically what teams go to down the stretch.”
The Pistons avoided the slow start against Sacramento, piling up 27 first-quarter points. The problem? They only led by one when it was over. The Kings, as Denver had the night before, punished them on the offensive glass, grabbing nine in the first half alone.
“We said this game was going to be very similar to the Denver game – transition, drive and kick, second shots, paint,” Frank said. “We had a really good offensive flow that first quarter. We’re up 1. It’s 27-26. When we become the team that we will be, it will be 27-13. But we’ve got a lot of work to do and everyone has to commit to it and we can’t be worried about anything other than that.”
Brandon Knight matched Monroe’s 21 points for the Pistons, hitting 5 of 9 from the 3-point line. Will Bynum had 14 off the bench. But the 35 points scored by Pistons point guards were diminished by the scoring of Sacramento guards Isaiah Thomas (15), Tyreke Evans (15), Marcus Thornton (11), Aaron Brooks (11) and Jimmer Fredette (12). Thornton hit a huge triple to put the Kings up five with 1:13 left, Thomas penetrated and fed DeMarcus Cousins for a layup with 31 seconds left to restore the lead to five and Fredette hit two free throws to virtually clinch the win with 20 seconds left.
“I want to win the game,” Frank said, “and so do our guys. We all want to win the game. In order to win the game, we’ve got to put defense first. There were some good things offensively, but we have to be able to do both. We have it in us to do it. We’ve yet to do it for sustained stretches. Once we did – which we will – then we’ll get what we deserve. Right now, we’re getting what we deserve.”