Down and Dirty
Those Pistons represented the guts of the group that competed in six straight conference finals. Ben Wallace was gone, but their starting lineup that night consisted of Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, Tayshaun Prince, Chancey Billups and Tayshaun Prince.
The current Pistons, Prince the exception, don’t have anywhere near the defensive pedigree that bunch had, mostly because for so many their resumes have only started to be written. But Lawrence Frank preaches it and Jason Maxiell embodies it: defense is mostly mind-set.
“It was all mental,” Maxiell said of the anemic 29.8 percent shooting Philadelphia managed as the Pistons won by 18 points Wednesday night in holding the 76ers to … 76, fittingly enough. “We came in with the mind-set we were hungry for a win, so we have to do everything we can – no points in the paint, no transition. When they turn the ball over, attack on the offensive end.”
When teams put up such aberrational numbers as Philadelphia’s shot percentage, it can’t all be suffocating defense. Some of it surely was the 76ers missing shots they’d normally make. But Frank also saw the honoring of the defensive foundation he espouses, clear signs of progress for a team that struggled in all phases at the defensive end over the season’s first handful of games.
“Other than our turnovers, we did a good job of making them play against our set defense,” Frank said. “We did an excellent job, by and large, controlling the boards – we were plus 19 on the glass.”
The rebounding number was the most eye-popping of the night considering the Pistons went into the game last in the NBA.
“It’s something we work on, honestly, with coach (Roy) Rogers every day,” Maxiell said. “Myself, Greg (Monroe), Andre (Drummond) and Slava (Kravtsov) all the time, with a heavy ball, rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. It’s what we try to focus on.”
But it wasn’t just the big men who got after rebounds at Philly. All five starters had at least four rebounds apiece, including point guard Brandon Knight with seven. Jonas Jerebko came off the bench to grab six more. The 76ers’ errant shooting meant there were plenty of chances for offensive rebounds, a particular bugaboo for the Pistons this season. In their first five games, they grabbed under 60 percent of available defensive rebounds. Against Philadelphia, they grabbed 45 of 56.
“If we guard the ball better, we’ll be in less rotation,” Frank said. “Think about the guys who had at least four rebounds. Everyone’s got blockout responsibility. When we rebound with five and not have (players) leaking out … and it’s putting more into the game. It’s that level of focus and determination and passion when things aren’t going your way or the team’s way. I just really liked our spirit.”
Maxiell played on those stellar Pistons defensive teams that surrendered baskets grudgingly. There’s no hesitation in his answer when he’s asked what it will take to make this Pistons team better able to play defense the way it did at Philadelphia more consistently.
“It’s about the second effort,” he said. “You get the first effort, but if somebody gets beat you get rotations and you have to have confidence that a teammate has your back. It’s all about second effort.”
Maxiell didn’t remember much about that game five seasons ago, a 102-74 win over Washington in which the Wizards shot 27.1 percent. Until I told him he scored 28 points and grabbed eight rebounds that night.
“Oh, yeah,” he smiled. “I remember it now.”
The Pistons hope defensive performances like Wednesday’s in Philadelphia become so routine, they’ll have similar problems recalling anything special about the night of Nov. 14, too.