Knight Cruise

Career-high 30 from Knight carries Pistons after sluggish start

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – The Pistons were running in quicksand much of the night, getting beat up on the backboards for the second straight game, but closed the third quarter on a 22-8 run and led by 14 midway through the fourth quarter in grabbing a 104-97 road win. Brandon Knight scored 10 of his career-high 30 points in the third quarter and added five assists and seven rebounds. Knight tacked on another nine points in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter as the Pistons opened a 14-point lead. His biggest basket was a triple late to snap a 9-0 Cleveland run that had pulled the Cavs within five. Knight had 23 points in the second half. Tayshaun Prince finished with 14 points and eight boards.

BLUE COLLAR – Jason Maxiell has had nights with better numbers than his 10 points and four rebounds and others with more memorable plays, but on a night the Pistons were struggling seriously with their energy level, an under-the-radar play from Maxiell at just the right time kept them from falling into a danger zone late in the first half. Trailing by 10, the Cavs looked certain to add to their lead when Anderson Varejao got away and was headed for a dunk or layup. Maxiell came off his man and positioned himself just outside the restricted area, taking a charge that wiped out Varejao’s basket. The Pistons outscored the Cavs 13-6 over the final three minutes of the first half after that play to get back within three points at halftime.

RED FLAG – One game after giving up 58 points in the paint and way too many second chances to Chicago on a night Joakim Noah went for 30 points and 23 boards, the Pistons lost their chance to pull away early from the offensively challenged Cavs when they got hurt inside again. Anderson Varejao and rookie Tyler Zeller, who entered when Tristan Thompson picked up two quick fouls, each finished the first half with 11 points and seven rebounds. Varejao finished with 16 points and 12 boards, Zeller with 13 and eight. Cleveland had 54 points in the paint and 31 second-chance points.

CLEVELAND – Twice the Pistons were on the brink of getting run out of the building, twice Jason Maxiell reeled them in from the ledge.

Down 10 in the first half, Maxiell prevented an Anderson Varejao layup by taking a charge, sparking the Pistons on a 13-6 run to close within three at halftime. Down eight after a 10-0 Cleveland run early in the third quarter, Maxiell muscled his way for an offensive rebound and follow that stopped Cavs momentum and sparked the Pistons on a 19-6 run.

On a night the Pistons struggled with collective energy, Maxiell kept giving them reasons to believe they could still win the game. And so they did, a 104-97 win in their 22nd game, more than anyone else in the league.

“It’s things like that that I bring to the game every night,” Maxiell said. “I’m not going to be a high scorer, but I try to be a great defender.”

Lawrence Frank tried pushing buttons as the Pistons sputtered, allowing Cleveland to dominate the backboards by a 2-1 margin in the first half. Before going out to start the third quarter, he pulled Maxiell aside.

“I said we need some of those momentum-changing plays,” Frank said. “I really didn’t like our energy and we needed some spark. As long as our hearts would keep on beating, we felt we’d give ourselves a chance and Max was again good for that.”

“Max puts himself in good position,” Tayshaun Prince said. “I always tell him, especially when I’m back down there with him, ‘You can leave (to stop penetration) as early as you want, because I’ll have your back.’ Those charges came at a perfect time for us. It kind of stopped their runs and it did help us out a lot.”

So credit Maxiell with giving the Pistons a chance at life on a night they appeared nearly lifeness, but credit Brandon Knight with pretty much everything from that point.

Knight scored 10 points in the third quarter as the Pistons closed on a 22-8 run to take a four-point lead to the fourth quarter, then hit the Cavs with nine more points in the first five minutes of the quarter before finally heading to the bench for a brief rest as they stretched their lead to 14. When Cleveland answered with a 9-0 run, Knight drained a huge triple with 3:17 to play to restore order. He finished with a career-best 30 to go with seven boards and five assists on a night he wondered if he’d be able to play, still bothered by a deep thigh bruise suffered a week ago in Dallas.

“He was aggressive,” Prince said. “He was banged up. He didn’t even know if he was going to come out and play today. I guess he needs to play hurt all the time.”

Knight’s offensive outburst roughly coincided with Frank’s call for Andre Drummond and Rodney Stuckey off the bench a little earlier than usual, midway through the third quarter, with the Pistons trailing 64-58. That’s about when Cleveland’s domination of the backboards tapered off. The Pistons wound up outrebounding Cleveland 22-20 after halftime.

“In the third quarter,” Frank said, “I thought Rodney and Andre injected some good energy into our group.” Stuckey chipped in with 10 points and six assists, including a huge stop-and-pop jumper to ice the game with 18 seconds left, while Drummond put up nine points and three boards.

The Pistons beat a weakened Cavs team, missing backcourt starters and offensive leaders Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, but coming off a tough loss to Chicago 24 hours earlier they weren’t about to apologize or hand one back.

“We’ve played a lot of games so far,” said Prince, who continued his undersung season with another solid line: 14 points and eight rebounds. “I think we’re leading the league in games played. Guys are feeling it. The good thing was, after how we lost the last game, it was good we played tonight and come out with a win. This is a huge win for us because we had a couple of heartbreakers.”