House of Pain

Pistons win 4th straight at Palace, crush Phoenix by 40


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

White Hot – The schedule that contributed to the nightmarish 0-8 start the Pistons endured finally gave them a little payback. Playing a Phoenix team that had played – and won by 13 points – at Cleveland the night before, the Pistons weathered a hot shooting start by the Suns but kept counterpunching and finally wore them down. Phoenix shot 60 percent in the first quarter, but only 27 percent in the middle two periods when the Pistons stretched their lead as wide as 26 points and kept going from there, stretching it to 44 in the fourth and winning 117-77. Brandon Knight and Charlie Villaneuva scored 19 apiece to lead a tremendously balanced offense that saw nine players take between five and 12 shots as the Pistons set a season high for scoring and 3-pointers made with 12.

BLUE COLLAR – Since Alvin Gentry moved Luis Scola and Jared Dudley out of the starting lineup and to the Phoenix bench, the Suns have been winning games- 3-1, including a 13-point win at Cleveland on Tuesday – on the strength of their bench play. But it was Detroit ’s bench that carried the play on Wednesday, scoring 27 of 55 first-half points and responsible for opening a double-digits lead after the game was tied at 24 after one quarter. Rodney Stuckey, playing an expanded role in backing up at both guard spots, played perhaps his best game of the season with 18 points, five rebounds and four assists. He got plenty of help from Charlie Villaneuva, who scored 19 points and made 7 of 8 shots. Corey Maggette scored eight points and Andre Drummond had six to go with nine rebounds.

RED FLAG – Offensive rebounding has been a bugaboo of the Pistons off and on throughout the early going, especially during the first few weeks. Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Pistons grabbed 78 percent of available defensive rebounds in their four wins, but only 67 percent in their losses. Phoenix managed to stay relatively close on Wednesday by grabbing eight offensive rebounds in the second quarter alone that led to 13 second-chance points in the first half to keep the Suns in the game before they ran out of gas in the second half.

It took Lawrence Frank 24 games to mix the parts in the proper combinations and amounts for optimal results. It’s too soon to say if he’s there after 16 games in his second time around, but things are certainly trending in the right direction.

Since moving Kyle Singler into the starting lineup, the Pistons are 5-3. And on the night they crushed Phoenix 117-77 – their first 40-point win since 2007 – to extend their Palace winning streak to four games, he trimmed his rotation by one and the results were encouraging, to say the least.

An engaged Rodney Stuckey is critical to the Pistons realizing their potential, and by going to a three-guard rotation – Stuckey off the bench behind Singler and Brandon Knight, backing up at both spots – Frank is banking on more minutes and more chances with the ball in his hands awakening the aggressive scorer within Stuckey.

Actually, it was what Stuckey had in mind when he went to Frank two weeks ago and suggested that Singler remain in the starting lineup.

“Any way I can help my team win,” Stuckey said after scoring 18 off the bench in 25 minutes, getting to the foul line 11 times, grabbing five rebounds and accounting for four of Detroit’s 28 assists. “I just thought tonight I came in and was being aggressive, having the ball in my hand, creating for my teammates. In transition I was attacking. That’s what I envisioned.”

There were a multitude of reasons the Pistons started the season 0-8 – six of those games coming consecutively on the road a big one – but perhaps none was more critical than Stuckey’s sluggish start. After three games, he was 1 of 23 from the field. Charlie Villanueva would have killed to have had the opportunity to miss 22 shots back then – he wasn’t even in the mix.

In the Pistons’ most resounding win of the Frank era, Stuckey and Villanueva required only 16 shots between them to record 37 points. Villanueva made 7 of 8 and hit 4 of 5 from the 3-point arc on a night the Pistons made 12 – three better than their previous season high of nine, which came in the two other games since Villanueva’s ascension – and shot 80 percent from the arc.

“I think they both played well,” Frank said. “Charlie’s played three very good games, and it’s not just the shot-making. It’s the other things. I think Rodney, two games in a row he’s played with very, very good intensity. He put a lot of pressure on the defense with his backdowns and postups and made a heck of a pass to Andre (Drummond). Just playing with force. His intensity there, you can feel it – very tangible.”

The Pistons broke from a 24-all tie as the second unit spurred a second quarter that saw them outscore Phoenix 31-20 to take an 11-point halftime lead that quickly grew past 20. Less than four minutes into the third quarter, Suns coach Alvin Gentry waved in five new players from his bench. The lead swelled to 26 seven minutes into the half and to 44 as the Pistons shot 55 percent after halftime while holding Phoenix to 29 percent.

When the game ended, the Pistons huddled at center court with one clear message.

“We got a great win at home – let’s keep going,” said Brandon Knight, who wound up with 19 to match Villanueva and lead the Pistons. “Let’s try to get the third one in a row and keep building – every day, keep building.”

Since breaking through for their first win after the 0-8 start, the Pistons had been on a win-one, lose-one treadmill until the Phoenix win gave them back-to-back wins.

“We have (been more consistent),” Knight said, “but it can be on and off. Over eight games, it seems consistent because we have five of them. But it’s still one good, one bad; one good, one bad. We just want to make sure every night that it’s good.”

“A lot of good stuff tonight,” Frank said. “Defensively, holding a team to a low percentage, good ball movement with 28 assists, a lot of guys in the mix. You don’t have a lot of games like this, but there were a lot of bright spots we’ve got to keep building on.”