A Good Knight

Pistons win wild one behind play of young core: Knight, Drummond, Monroe

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Andrea Bargnani was hot early and late, his 34 points almost proving too much for the Pistons in a wild one at The Palace. But Brandon Knight’s beautiful split of a Toronto double team and tough driving layup with 7.8 seconds left gave the Pistons a lead and they survived a Kyle Lowry step-back jumper at the buzzer for a 91-90 win, their second straight home win. Bargnani scored 17 of Toronto’s first 20 points and had 19 by the time he went to the bench two minutes into the second quarter. He hit two big triples in the fourth quarter, the first with 4:22 left to put Toronto ahead by five and the second with 1:21 left to break a tie. The Pistons twice pulled within a point in the last 65 seconds on Tayshaun Prince post hook shots, then got a big stop when Lowry missed with 16 seconds left to set up Knight’s heroics. Greg Monroe led the Pistons with 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons got a good run from Andre Drummond in both the second and fourth quarters, much of that time played alongside Greg Monroe. Drummond played more than 12 straight minutes and finished the first half with nine points, missing just one shot, to go with three boards and a spectacular steal of a lob pass. A good chunk of that time, he was matched against Toronto rookie Jonas Valanciunas, No. 5 pick in the 2011 lottery who, despite being just 15 months older than the 19-year-old Drummond is a veteran of Lithuanian pro basketball and a staple of the powerful national team. Drummond finished with 13 points and career highs of 13 rebounds and 25 minutes.

RED FLAG – The Pistons led by four points at halftime, a perfectly acceptable result. But they shot 51 percent and held Toronto 39 percent and outrebounded the Raptors by four. It felt like they could have been up 10 and they probably should have been. Given their difficulty holding second-half leads – and especially coming off of the 21-0 run by Orlando to start the second half in their last game, when they held a similar small lead (three points) – it wasn’t the way the Pistons wanted to go into halftime. They began the second half strong this time, going on an 11-0 run after Toronto scored on its first possession of the half and expanding their lead to 10 just 2:11 into the third quarter. They pushed it to 13, yet then allowed a 10-0 Toronto run when they scored on only one of eight possessions. It was a game they could have – should have, perhaps – been in firm control of instead of playing another team down to the wire.

The Pistons haven’t been able to put together much in the way of streaks this season, befitting a team with the 2-10 record they lugged into Friday’s match with Toronto. Now they have a streak to their credit. A modest one, perhaps, but a streak they’ll wear proudly.

Powered by their young core of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight – with a huge stabilizing push from Tayshaun Prince – the Pistons squandered a 13-point second-half lead but came back from five points behind late and won 91-90 for their second straight home win.

“It was a character game,” Will Bynum said. “It’s a game of runs. Toronto made a great run and we did a great job of responding back. It was extremely important. Brandon played great down the stretch and Tayshaun made some great shots. It was great to see because the previous games we’ve been struggling with that.”

Monroe had another of the type of game that’s becoming routine for him: a double-double, 19 and 11 this time, plus five assists. Drummond played a career high in minutes, more than 24, and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds to go with 13 points for his first career double-double. Knight played a superb final 5:54 after re-entering the game for Bynum, hitting three critical shots in three tries, including a tying triple with 2:56 to play and the game-winner with 7.8 seconds left, splitting a narrow opening and scoring a tough, driving layup.

The Pistons then survived a Kyle Lowry missed shot, just as they had seconds earlier to give themselves the chance to win on a night Andre Bargnani was sizzling, scoring 34 points and making 13 of 20 shots.

But Prince, the veteran, set up Knight’s heroics with consecutive baskets with 1:03 and 37 seconds remaining on similar right-block, lefty hooks. He finished with 16 points, seven boards and three assists, making 8 of 11 shots.

“We got stops down the stretch,” Prince said. “During timeouts coach drew up some stuff, a couple of plays. We kept our floor space and let the guys attack and made the plays. That kind of gave us some confidence down the stretch to do what we have to do. Brandon did a great job on the last play of being patient. I didn’t have timeouts (with Prince trying to inbound the ball from the side) – the play wasn’t set up for me to give him the ball, it’s just that nobody was open. So I had to get him the ball, he was patient enough to relax and see how much time we had and make a play out of it. Kudos to him.”

Knight finished with 16 points, making 6 of 8 shots, and then he played the physical Lowry tough on the last possession to force a tough miss, Lowry finishing just 6 of 17.

“I’m really happy with the poise our guys showed down the stretch, really executed very, very well,” Frank said. “Tay was very good in executing, going down to him, good poise, good presence as far as delivering the ball to him and giving him space. Getting the key stop – we had to get that stop in order to have a chance. I just liked the way we composed ourselves.”

Frank played Monroe and Drummond together extensively and Drummond had perhaps his best game, with no apparent defensive gaffes and plenty of defensive impact and the obvious wallop that comes with grabbing eight offensive boards.

“Andre,” Frank said, “was huge.”

“Andre was big,” Bynum echoed. “His energy level was high. He’s out there talking defensively. He gave us that presence in the paint and he’s offensive rebounding. He just played great tonight. He’s improving minute by minute, second by second. It’s kind of scary, because he’s nowhere near where he’s going to be in a few years. It’s great to see.”

“I saw a lot from him tonight,” Prince said. “The most important thing is when he made mistakes, missed free throws, he just stayed the course, didn’t put his head down. I think his energy kept the crowd in the game and that’s what we need from him.”

Frank showed his trust in Drummond when he put him out for the critical defensive possession before Knight’s game-winning basket, removing Monroe after Lowry on the previous possession had gotten all the way to the rim for a layup off a pick-and-roll play.

“We said if they’re going to go back to that again, rather have more size and length with Andre so if it winds up being a late switch he’s got to shoot over a little bit taller guy,” Frank said.

“Defensively, we’ve got to have nights like this. It wasn’t perfect, but that’s kind of the recipe: hold the team to a low field-goal percentage, win the rebound battle, win the points in the paint, give ourselves a chance. Last six minutes of the game, go either way.”

After losing double-digit leads and dropping their first three home games of the season, the Pistons have now won two straight at The Palace. A modest streak, perhaps, but one they’ll gladly take on a night their future made their present a happy place.