Pistons Win 3rd Straight
Who would have imagined, a month ago, that Charlie Villaneuva, Austin Daye and Will Bynum would all not only be in Lawrence Frank’s rotation but critical in their own ways to the 103-97 New Year’s Day win over Sacramento?
Bynum was the quarterback with the ball in his hands in the game’s crucial possessions, while Daye confidently stroked the 3-point bomb that iced it. As for Villanueva, his newfound stature was underscored by his absence, ejected for a flagrant-two foul in the second quarter, and the way the Pistons’ offense floundered without his deep shooting threat in the fourth quarter as the Kings clawed back into the game.
“We were our own worst enemy,” Lawrence Frank said after the Pistons won their third straight game and fifth in their last six. “We went real stale offensively.”
It was a virtual replay of the win over Milwaukee 48 hours earlier. This time the Pistons recovered from a sluggish start – they trailed 16-8 early – but again controlled the game, leading by double digits most of the night, before a fourth-quarter rally. Unlike the Milwaukee win, this time they never trailed, putting together three straight stops after it was 96-95.
“We went through that drill before against Milwaukee,” Frank said. “That was the time we were able to put something behind it and get into guys and get the stop and secure the rebound.”
But it was still a one-possession game after Bynum and Aaron Brooks swapped free throws, the Pistons leading 100-97 with 35 seconds left. Trying to milk the clock, Bynum dribbled the shot clock down to 10 before feeding Prince. He got stripped, though, and when he recovered all Prince had time to do was find Daye, two steps beyond the 3-point line with no option but to launch.
It would have been a questionable shot for many, but it was right in Daye’s wheelhouse, and he knew it was good when it left his hand.
“He’s always been a knock-down shooter,” said Greg Monroe, who continued his pattern of strong games against Sacramento with 18 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. “Everybody, from the players to the coaching staff, has confidence in him. We know how talented he is. Nothing he’s doing right now is surprising. He’s always worked hard, even when he wasn’t getting as much playing time. He’s definitely been big. He’s hit a couple of big shots for us.”
Daye finished with 13 points on another strong night for the bench, even a depleted one. Rodney Stuckey missed his third straight game with an ankle sprain and Villanueva’s absence further reduced the second unit’s punch. Bynum had 15 points and four assists and Andre Drummond had another high-impact game with seven points, 11 boards and three blocked shots.
“The second unit did a good job coming off the bench and providing energy,” Daye said. “We were talking to ourselves on the bench when the game started and we looked a little sluggish.”
Daye smiled when I asked him if he could have envisioned not only forcing his way back into the rotation but being on the floor at crunch time – with the ball in his hands – just a few weeks ago?
“I was going to be prepared for whatever happened,” he said. “No matter, if I was not going to play the whole year, if I was not going to be here, I was going to stay prepared and be ready for whatever situation came. Luckily, a situation came where I can get on the floor with my guys and I’m able to produce.”
“I could imagine it,” Bynum said. “I’ve been here a long time, been through ups and downs. You just have to be patient and consistent with your work ethic and things will turn around.”
After losing Villanueva, who scored nine points in 11 first-half minutes and hit three triples, Frank said his first instinct was to play Jonas Jerebko. When the game got to about the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter – when he needed to make a move to get Monroe his first rest of the half – he decided against it, feeling it would have been a tough spot for Jerebko after not having played much for more than a month.
So he stuck with a three-man big rotation after halftime, a decision made easier for him by the effectiveness of Monroe and Drummond. Maxiell made two huge hustle plays down the stretch, chasing down a Monroe missed free throw and diving to the floor for a loose ball that produced two free throws for Brandon Knight, who led the Pistons with 20 points and hit 8 of 13 shots.
But all the hustle plays might have added up to a discouraging loss if Daye hadn’t come up with a huge shot at a critical time.
“The guys who weren’t playing – he, Charlie, Will – always stayed the course,” Frank said. “(Daye) never hung his head, was a great teammate, very, very engaged. During the games, his head was in the game. I thought he showed great maturity. It’s amazing how far that can take you when you don’t have clutter in your head, regardless if you think you’re getting the short end of the stick. Everyone’s genuinely happy for Austin that he’s been having some success. He’s a talented guy and by staying both mentally and physically ready, he’s able to deliver. It’s great to see him deliver in a big situation like tonight.”