What a Win!

Bynum-led bench blows up again as Pistons overtake champion Heat

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Another game, another sensational night for Lawrence Frank’s bench. It looked like the Pistons might get blown out the way Miami often does to even playoff-caliber opponents when they fell behind by 15 points. But a phenomenal second quarter led by Will Bynum, Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye and Andre Drummond saw the Pistons outscore Miami 41-20 en route to a stirring 109-99 win before a packed and spent Palace crowd. Bynum put up 25 points and 10 assists, shooting 10 for 16, one shot more difficult than the next. Bynum scored 13 points and added three assists in the fourth quarter and made a number of clutch shots as Miami made several fourth-quarter rushes. Villanueva added 18 points and six rebounds and Drummond matched Bynum’s double-double with 10 points and 10 boards as the bench scored 64 of the 109 points.

BLUE COLLAR – Tayshaun Prince didn’t have an eye-popping stats line – 11 points, no assists, four rebounds – but he had to do blue-collar duty by going all the way in the second half guarding an engaged LeBron James. James easily won the statistical matchup – 35 points, six rebounds, five assists. – but Prince hung in as well as anyone might have on a night the world’s greatest player clearly had the bounce in his step and look in his eye. Prince had a big basket in the final few minutes, driving right to left across the lane and scoring with a swooping shot.

RED FLAG – Another flat start by Pistons starters dug another double-digit hole early. Miami opened the game on a 10-0 run and led by 15 after one quarter. As well as the bench is playing, the Pistons could be opening significant halftime leads if the starters can hold their own in the opening minutes. They’ve now been outscored by 15 points in each of their last two first quarters. The good news? The starters responded beautifully in the third quarter, opening with a 9-0 run and outscoring the Heat 23-19.

If once is an oddity, twice a coincidence and three times a trend, then four times is verging onto hard-core evidence. For four straight games, the Pistons’ bench has been somewhere between very good and awesome, never better than they were Friday night when they reversed a 15-point deficit and led a 109-99 win over defending NBA champion Miami before a Palace sellout.

“I don’t know our numbers, but I can tell we’re playing well together,” said Austin Daye, who made 4 of 5 shots in an 11-point night, one of the new bench mainstays. “We’re knocking down shots. We’re a big threat out there. When you’ve got Will (Bynum) and Rodney (Stuckey) in pick and roll, and Andre (Drummond) diving and you’ve got me and Charlie (Villanueva) and whoever else out there, the floor is really spread out.

“We do it to the first unit in practice and they try to figure things out against us – how to defend us. It’s making us and them better.”

Right about now, fans who’ve kept the Pistons at arm’s length as they grope to find traction in their transition of eras might be ready to pay to watch those practices. Even on a night Stuckey couldn’t play, missing with a sprained ankle suffered during the comeback from 22 down at Atlanta on Wednesday, the bench was scintillating.

Those numbers Daye didn’t have at hand: They scored 64 in Friday’s win and shot a mind-boggling 68.4 percent, including 9 of 11 from the 3-point line. That gives them an average of 62.2 points a game over their last four. They’ve outscored Detroit starters by an average of 16 points in that span.

“All the credit belongs to those guys,” said Lawrence Frank, who at various points of the season has excluded Villanueva, Daye and Bynum from the rotation. “A couple of weeks ago, those guys weren’t even playing. You’ve got to give those guys a tremendous amount of credit for staying ready. Over the last four games, those guys have 249 points. You can only pray for production like that.”

Miami scored the game’s first 10 points and led 32-17 after one quarter, not an atypical Miami start in their 20-6 run to open the season. The bench wasted not a possession in getting back in the game, starting the second quarter with a 14-0 run. They went ahead for good on a Villanueva 3-pointer 2:47 before halftime to make it 51-50 amid a 41-20 second-quarter blitz, giving the bench back-to-back quarters of 39 and 41 points dating to the fourth quarter at Atlanta.

The Pistons would never lose that lead, thanks to two things: (1) a highly encouraging third quarter by the starters at a point their confidence had to be rocked, opening with a 9-0 run to widen the six-point halftime lead to 15 and outscoring Miami 23-19 for the quarter, and (2) an answer by the bench every time Miami charged in the fourth quarter.

And, yeah, the Heat charged. LeBron James’ body language screamed Game 5, 2007 Eastern Conference finals, when he famously scored Cleveland’s last 25 points in a 109-107 double-overtime Pistons loss that tipped the series to the Cavs. Miami tore into its 10-point deficit by opening the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run.

Drummond, as much as anyone, reversed momentum, scoring on an artful left-handed scoop shot after dribbling across the lane, then stealing a James pass that resulted in a Villanueva fast-break follow dunk. When Ray Allen missed a triple and Bynum answered with a bomb, the Pistons were back up by 11. James kept punching, but Miami never came closer than six after that.

“Great response,” Frank said. “But you look, the whole game changed for us in the second quarter, but the really positive and encouraging thing is then to start the third quarter, we played off of that. (The starters) get eight consecutive stops in the first six minutes, the ball was moving, it just kind of built off of that. The second unit set a really good example and our guys fed off of it and we had everyone contribute in the second half.”

“Andre was big out there tonight,” Bynum said of the plays on both ends that stemmed Miami’s momentum. “He’s been playing great. Game by game, he’s getting better and better. … We’ve got a great chemistry of players out there. It’s just simple. With Charlie, Austin, myself, Kyle (Singler), Stuckey, Drummond – they kind of have to pick their poison.”

The highlight of an otherwise bleak season for Daye last year was a 28-point night against Miami at The Palace in a game the Pistons narrowly lost. He flashed to that as the Heat made those fourth-quarter pushes.

“I said, ‘not again. We’re not going to lose this game again. We’ve got to pull this one out.”

And so they did, Bynum making one shot bigger than the next, four tough jump shots in the final five minutes on his way to a 25-point, 10-assist night, giving him back-to-back 20-point games for the first time in more than three years. Villanueva had 18 points and six boards and Drummond made it two double-doubles for the suddenly dominant bench with 10 points and 10 boards.

It ended with the crowd, many of them who’d come to pay homage to the Heat, on its feet for the Pistons.

“We’ve got to give these fans reason to come back, so tonight – if I’m a fan – it’s reason to come back,” Frank said. “But you’ve got to earn the trust. Detroit is a great sports city, but let’s not kid ourselves. You’ve got to win. We have to give ’em a reason to come, so tonight was reason to come and we have to keep on building. It’s a really good feeling to have a packed house.”

And a stacked bench.