Pistons Hang On

Pistons win again by holding off hard-charging Milwaukee

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Two nights after the season’s signature win, a 10-point dusting of Miami, the Pistons beat the team that downed Miami on Saturday, in a 96-94 win over Milwaukee. But it wasn’t easy despite the fact the Pistons led all the way until the final two minutes – and often led by double dights and by as many as 15. The Pistons’ starting frontcourt of Greg Monroe, Jason Maxiell and Tayshaun Prince got them off and running with a strong first quarter, combining for 26 points and 10 rebounds while making 12 of 16 shots to forge a 30-23 lead. But Milwaukee took the lead with 1:20 left before Prince, who scored 20, put up the game’s final four points, a tying hook shot and the winning free throws with 11 seconds left. The Pistons had to survive Monta Ellis’ missed runner to hang on.

BLUE COLLAR – Brandon Knight has had better shooting games, but he battled in a tough defensive matchup with Milwaukee’s jet-quick Brandon Jennings and forced Jennings into a 3 of 12 shooting night. Lawrence Frank called on Knight to guard Ellis on the final possession and he did a solid job of keeping Ellis in front of him to force a tough shot. In the third quarter, when the Pistons struggled to get good shots after carving Milwaukee’s interior defense up in the first half, Knight twice bailed out chaotic possessions by draining 3-point shots to prevent the Bucks from chipping away at the lead. Knight finished with 11 points and three assists.

RED FLAG – Fourth-quarter turnovers – six of them – allowed Milwaukee to erase an 11-point Pistons lead with 11 minutes to play. Milwaukee had scored just 10 points off Pistons turnovers through three quarters, but the eight the Bucks scored in the fourth off Pistons miscues gave the Bucks a great shot at stealing a win on a night the Pistons led from wire to wire except for the two-point lead Milwaukee took with 1:20 to play. It took two great possessions from Tayshaun Prince to avoid what would have been a very difficult loss.

Remember all those leads the Pistons frittered away in the first quarter of the season, losing eight games in which they led by double digits at some point? Yeah, well, the Pistons aren’t fooling themselves that they suddenly have the magic formula for protecting leads, but that’s two straight at The Palace over 48 hours in which they held on against hard charges from two of the Eastern Conference’s winningest teams.

Following their stirring win over Miami on Friday, when the defending NBA champions cut a 10-point deficit to four in the first minute of the fourth quarter but wound up losing by 10, the Pistons knocked off Milwaukee on Sunday after losing all of a 15-point lead but scoring the game’s final four points to win 96-94.

“I definitely feel like we’re responding better,” said the night’s star, Tayshaun Prince, who scored 20 points including those precious final four points on Detroit’s last two possessions – a 5-foot hook in the paint over Mike Dunleavy to tie it with 50 seconds left, then two free throws to put the Pistons ahead by what would be the winning margin with 11 seconds to go.

“And what a great way to do it, against two quality Eastern Conference teams. Those two teams are two of the best defensive teams in the league. To do it against them, that just lets you know that no matter what happens, stick with it and you’ll have these opportunities no matter who you play.”

That’s four wins in the last five games for the Pistons – with the only loss the double-overtime defeat at Atlanta when they came back from 22 points behind in the fourth quarter.

“Every team is going to make runs,” Brandon Knight said. “It’s just being able to withstand it and have the same mind-set, whether it’s Miami or Milwaukee or even a bad team – just making sure we have the same mind-set.”

“I saw real poise in our guys – not necessarily on the floor, but in the huddle,” Lawrence Frank said. “There was no panic, there was no finger pointing. It was, ‘All right, what do we need to do?’ We were able to get a stop. We were able to execute and get another stop. Our guys maintained their poise down the stretch.”

The Pistons opened on a 13-0 run – reversing the recent trend of sluggish starts by the starters, only to be saved by sensational runs by the bench – and led throughout, often by double digits. But fourth-quarter turnovers opened the door for a Bucks comeback and they responded with a barrage of three triples to wipe out a nine-point lead and then take their only lead on a tough baseline jump shot by Monta Ellis with 1:20 to play.

Prince tied it when he overpowered Mike Dunleavy in the post and put the Pistons up by drawing a foul on defensive ace Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Smart money was on Ellis, who scored 30, to take the final shot, so Frank assigned Knight to guard him after he spent most of the game harassing Brandon Jennings into a nine-point, 3 of 12 performance. Ellis missed an 18-footer with Knight preventing him from getting any closer.

“I knew he probably would take a drive to the basket, but I definitely wanted to take away the 3-point option,” Knight said. “I just tried to stay in front of him. He had been strong right drives all night long. You don’t want to just guess at a time like that, but you want to anticipate and I just tried to cut off the first dribble and try to keep him in front.”

The Bucks were coming off a Saturday night win over Miami that was every bit as rousing as the Pistons’ Friday win over the Heat, so it was a game where both teams were looking to measure themselves against a Central Division rival.

“They outplayed us except for maybe six to eight minutes the whole game,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “They deserved to win. We had chances to try and steal it at the end. They were more physical and had a lot more energy.”

“It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but as we’ve seen with these division games – they’re grimy, grindy and nasty,” Frank said. “We have a lot to work on, but it was good to find a way to win and to execute down the stretch.”

It’s telling that the Bucks are now 16-13 and in the No. 6 playoff position even though they’ve been outscored on the season by an average of 0.2 points per game, while the Pistons are 11-22 even though they’ve not been outscored by a much wider margin at 1.7. If they can win their share of close games, perhaps they can start overtaking the four teams – Boston, Philadelphia, Orlando and Toronto – currently ahead of them in the playoff pecking order.

“We know what we’re capable of,” said Greg Monroe, who put up a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards, as did Jason Maxiell (10 and 10). “We know we have to do a better job of being more consistent and focusing coming down the stretch. The past couple of games, we’ve done a good job of that.”