Tumbled in Toronto

Pistons squander career night from Monroe in 6-point loss to Raptors

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Greg Monroe was dazzling with his ability to score at the basket with both hands, many of his 14 field goals created largely off the dribble and with deft footwork, on his way to a career-high 35 points in Toronto. But he didn’t get quite enough help on a night Toronto shot better than 60 percent from the field until the last minute of the third quarter. The Pistons cooled them off in the fourth quarter after switching to a zone defense, but endured their own offensive struggles as well, shooting 6 of 19. No other Pistons starter scored in double figures and the four other than Monroe shot just 9 of 31.

BLUE COLLAR – Alan Anderson wasn’t even the most ballyhooed of his recruiting class at Michigan State, which also included Kelvin Torbert. He went undrafted in 2005 and had to work his way to the NBA through seasons overseas, but he’s flourished in Toronto. Lawrence Frank called him one of the league’s most underrated players before the game – then Anderson went out and validated Frank’s appraisal. His back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the fourth quarter gave Toronto an 11-point lead – the first double-digits lead for either team to that point – and he finished with 16, 12 in the fourth.

RED FLAG – Once again, the Pistons were within easy striking distance after three quarters, down by just 73-71. But they never tied or took the lead, dropping their record for the season to 0-17 when they trail going into the fourth quarter. Lawrence Frank has talked about the final 15 to 20 percent of the process of team building being the most difficult and the Pistons are finding that to be damningly true as they struggle to make the handful of plays that separate winning from losing.

TORONTO – Crazy game, basketball. When last the Pistons saw Toronto, the two best players on the floor for the Raptors – by a mile – were Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry. The Pistons won that game, Brandon Knight scoring on a twisting layup at the buzzer. With both Bargnani and Lowry nursing injuries, the Raptors won their fourth straight game Wednesday night, the Pistons their latest victims, and it was their sixth straight defeat.

More crazy stuff. Toronto kept its field-goal percentage at or above 60 percent until the final minute of the third quarter, yet the Pistons were right there. Neither team led by more than seven points at that juncture and the Pistons were just two back headed to the fourth quarter. Then the Pistons held Toronto to 27 percent shooting in the fourth quarter – and saw their two-point deficit triple in a 97-91 loss.

Two points down headed to the fourth quarter might as well be 22 so far this season for a young team struggling to survive what Lawrence Frank calls “the moment of truth.” With Wednesday’s loss, the Pistons fell to 0-17 in games where they trail – by any margin – after three quarters.

“Obviously, we haven’t been playing well in the fourth quarter,” rookie Kyle Singler said. “Learning how to win is something you can learn. We’re just not there yet. Again, we gave ourselves a chance to win, but crunch-time opportunities, for the most part, the other team has been making the plays.”

The Pistons got Toronto cooled down when they switched to a zone after falling 11 points behind on consecutive triples from Alan Anderson – but, as it seems to go for them these days, when their defense surged, their offense ebbed.

Greg Monroe gave them 10 points in the fourth quarter to finish with a career-best 35, but only Rodney Stuckey joined him in double figures with 13 points. The backcourt of Singler and Brandon Knight (1 of 10) combined to shoot 4 of 23.

“You have faith that as long as they’re good shots, you’ve got to stay with it,” Frank said. “(Knight) had some very good, open looks. He had some unfortunate things, but sometimes it’s sticking with guys through the good and the bad. We decided to stick with him.”

Monroe put his offensive repertoire on full display, twisting promising Raptors rookie center Jonas Valanciunas into knots with dribble moves he would finish with pivots and finishes with either hand. Monroe sunk 14 of his 22 shots and grabbed 10 rebounds to go with his career scoring night.

“I was just being aggressive,” he said. “I was able to get to the basket, get some finishes around the rim. Coming in, it wasn’t, ‘Greg, take him off the dribble,’ but as the game wore on I saw I had sort of an advantage and we tried to capitalize on it.”

“He was active and aggressive,” Frank said. “He was able to find spots. I thought he was very efficient with his moves, he attacked with a lot of straight-line drives, he had good patience about him. Offensively, he was very good tonight.”

The 15-6 run that opened the fourth quarter for Toronto came with Monroe on the bench as Toronto continued to knock down perimeter jump shots. It started early with DeMar DeRozan, who scored 10 of his 23 in the first quarter, and continued with everyone from Anderson to Jose Calderon – who ran up 17 assists, nine in the first quarter alone – to rookie Terrence Ross sticking long-range shots, some contested but many shot without stress.

“With the catch-and-shoot defense, it’s everyone being tied together,” Frank said. “It’s five guys working together. For whatever reason, our anticipation wasn’t as good as it has been.”

“It’s tough, man,” Monroe said. “They definitely made shots tonight. They had some open shots – that’s going to happen. But for the most part, we did a good job of playing defense and helping each other, but they did a good job of making shots. You have to give them credit tonight.”

Monroe indicated the team wasn’t caving to frustration as their fourth-quarter failures mount.

“We’re trying to find what we need to do to get back on track,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve fallen totally off track. The way we’ve been losing, it hasn’t been horrible games. We’re right there. Just a little bit more we have to do to finish games and pay attention to detail coming down the stretch.”