Thunder Storm Back

17-2 run to open 4th quarter leads OKC past winless Pistons

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – It took the road-weary Pistons 36 minutes to build an 11-point lead Monday night. It took Oklahoma City four minutes to erase it. Up 73-62 after three quarters, the Pistons missed their first nine shots of the fourth quarter and Oklahoma City lived at the free-throw line – the Thunder shot nine in the first three minutes of the quarter alone – in coming back for a 92-90 win at The Palace on Monday night. The Pistons, now 0-8 and playing only their second home game, had held the Thunder to 34 percent shooting through three quarters, including 13 of 27 combined for All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Pistons did come back to take two late leads, the last at 85-84 on a Jason Maxiell put-back basket, but their fourth-quarter offensive woes – they shot just 7 of 27 in scoring 17 points – proved insurmountable along with OKC’s 18 of 18 performance at the foul line in the fourth quarter; the Pistons were 1 of 2.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons’ problems defensively have been persistent and well-documented, the major underlying cause of their 0-7 start. But they put together their best defensive effort of the season against one of the NBA’s top offenses. Jason Maxiell was especially active in the middle, coming from off the ball to block three shots, including spectacular rejections of OKC stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook within minutes of each other during the third quarter. Maxiell also provided a vital spark the Pistons needed when he re-entered the game in the fourth quarter after Oklahoma City had stormed back to take the lead. He finished with 13 points and even rebounds.

RED FLAG – Brandon Knight played a solid all-around game – he finished with six assists and four rebounds to go with his eight points, and his defense on Russell Westbrook forced him to take 25 shots to get his game-high 33 points, including 11 at the foul line. But Knight’s shooting remains erratic. Though he hit a critical 3-pointer in the final minutes to vie the Pistons a 1-point lead, he shot just 2 of 13 overall and missed a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left that would have tied the score at 88. Knight came into the game shooting 39 percent for the season.

Since the Pistons last played The Palace, their clocks and their calendars have been changed. Alas, their win total has remained fixed. At zero.

The Pistons could see daylight at the end of the tunnel Monday night – until Oklahoma City buried them under the avalanche of a 17-2 run to open the fourth quarter, wiping out an 11-point lead built with their season’s best defensive effort.

Through three quarters, Oklahoma City All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were shooting a combined 13 for 37, forced to work for every one of their 34 points. But the fourth quarter started poorly and quickly got worse. The Pistons missed their first nine shots and 15 of their first 16, falling four points behind until Rodney Stuckey helped them regain their equilibrium with consecutive baskets.

The Pistons actually regained the lead twice – at 83-81 on a 3-pointer by Brandon Knight with 3:12 to play and again at 85-84 on Jason Maxiell’s put-back basket with 2:44 left.

But consecutive turnovers and a Knight triple that rolled around the rim and out helped the Thunder retake a five-point lead and hang on for a 92-90 win.

It wasn’t that the Pistons suddenly stopped playing defense in the fourth quarter. It was more about their offensive impotence when the Thunder went to a small lineup – well, smaller – and switched on every screen, befuddling the Pistons. The OKC lineup featured the athletic, shot-blocking Serge Ibaka guarding the rim while the willowy Durant played power forward and three rangy defenders – Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin – manned the perimeter.

“When you lose, as a coach it always starts with you,” Lawrence Frank said, lamenting some of his own fourth-quarter choices. “I just wish I could have given our guys a couple of more plays during that run. There were a couple of plays out there in the fourth quarter that I left out there. I wish I would have given our guys a little bit more against their switching, and our guys also have to share in the responsibility – in the decision-making, the shot selection, turnovers.”

The rash of low percentage shots ignited Oklahoma City’s running game, which in turn led to Pistons fouls that put a deadly foul-shooting team at the stripe for 18 fourth-quarter attempts. While the Pistons were shooting 7 of 27 in the fourth quarter, the Thunder were 6 of 11 – and 18 of 18 at the line to Detroit’s 1 of 2.

“When we’re not in the flow offensively, it just carries over to the defensive end,” Tayshaun Prince said. “They did a good job of switching a lot of things. They changed up from what they were doing earlier in the game and it kind of threw us off guard.”

The smaller OKC lineup had another effect on the Pistons, too. It pretty much eliminated the opportunity to pair Greg Monroe (17 points, six rebounds) with Andre Drummond, a combination used for the first time this season and to great effect in a nine-point loss at Oklahoma City three nights earlier. In fact, after Drummond gave the Pistons nine highly effective first-half minutes – four points, four boards, two steals, an assist and a blocked shot – he played just three minutes in the second half.

Once the Thunder went small and switched on every screen, leaving Detroit’s big man to be guarded by Westbrook or Sefolosha, Frank went with Monroe, the more polished back-to-the-basket scorer.

The fourth quarter dulled the many positives the Pistons had piled up through three quarters: a very strong second quarter from the bench, a dynamic game from Jason Maxiell, the season’s best defensive effort and – not coincidentally – an offensive efficiency that saw the Pistons shoot 46 percent and limit turnovers to nine.

“I liked our spirit tonight,” Frank said. “I thought they fought their tails off. They competed extremely hard. But you’ve got to come out with urgency every single night. The effort we put together tonight was completely different than the effort we showed two nights ago in Houston.”

“It’s tough,” said Maxiell, who put up 13 points, seven boards and three blocks and whose insertion midway through the fourth quarter coincided with the end of the 17-2 OKC run. “We have to finish strong. It’s a mental thing – keep pushing.”

“Max was unbelievable for us,” Prince said. “He was covering for a lot of our mistakes on the perimeter. It’s tough to swallow this one because guys put out a great effort for a long period of time in this game.”