Philadelphia made exactly half its shots through three quarters – and then got hot. The 76ers drained 11 of 16 shots in the fourth quarter to prevent the Pistons – who forced three ties in the period, the last at 91-all on Charlie Villanueva’s 3-pointer with 5:25 left – from catching up and passing them.
“They were definitely in a rhythm tonight,” said Greg Monroe, whose 22 points matched Brandon Knight to lead four Pistons in double figures in their 104-97 loss. “We had to do a better job of disrupting that rhythm. They made shots in mid-range, some tough ones, and some of them we have to do a better job defending.”
So passed the chance for the Pistons to post their first back-to-back road wins of the season. The 104-97 final was the same as in two of the three previous Pistons games – the win at Cleveland two nights earlier and last Wednesday’s loss to Golden State.
And when the Pistons score 97 points, Lawrence Frank, of course, thinks they should win.
“We had enough offense,” he said. “Unfortunately, we missed some timely baskets. But defensively, we’ve just got to be a little bit sharper.”
Jrue Holiday was especially troublesome for the Pistons, scoring 25 points to go with eight assists. Holiday scored 12 points, making 5 of 7 shots, in the fourth quarter alone, including a dagger of a 15-footer with 1:53 left to give Philly a five-point lead.
“He’s a tremendous player,” said Villanueva, who continues to earn Frank’s trust, playing all of the fourth quarter and contributing eight points plus five rebounds. “In crunch time, he’s going to have the ball in his hands and make plays either for himself or others. It seemed like we couldn’t get the stops we needed down the stretch.”
Knight and Rodney Stuckey gave the 76ers every bit as much trouble on the other end. They combined for 41 points and nine assists and Stuckey’s aggressiveness helped the Pistons to a whopping 33-23 edge at the foul line, with Philly’s total inflated by getting six shots in the final minute with the Pistons intentionally fouling.
“The first half, we were living at the free-throw line,” Frank said. “Our high pick-and-roll attack was very, very effective, whether it was Brandon or Rodney. I thought Greg was very good.”
The multiplicity of their offense was enough to give the Pistons a six-point lead after Kyle Singler’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds left before halftime. Barely two minutes into the third quarter, that six-point lead had become a six-point deficit. And it kept growing, Philly extending its run to 17 points to take a 60-49 lead.
Then the Pistons came up with the basketball equivalent of an 18-play football drive with a six-point possession: a Monroe basket and-one that resulted in a missed free throw the Pistons rebounded, leading to two Brandon Knight free throws and a missed second attempt they also chased down, leading to a successfully completed Monroe and-one.
It was game on after that, with both offenses imposing their will on each defense.
“This is a no-excuse league,” Frank said. “We put ourselves in that position and you’ve got to grind you way out of it. To our guys’ credit, we kept on fighting and gave ourselves a chance. But the objective is to try to win that game and we came up short.”
“That’s something we have to control – we have to come out and we have to be the ones making that run, especially on the road,” Monroe said. “Once the home team gets a little momentum, it’s kind of hard to recover. Even though we did, that fourth quarter, we have to finish the game.”