The Thrill, the Agony

Pistons surge behind Will Bynum, fall just short of comeback

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Will Bynum’s high-arcing layup attempt with three seconds left bounced off both sides of the rim with the Pistons down by a point, then Andre Drummond couldn’t quite get enough control of Kyle Singler’s inbounds lob pass at the buzzer as the Pistons lost a gut-wrenching 98-97 Super Bowl Sunday matinee. Kobe Bryant broke a 95-all tie with a little over a minute left with a driving layup and free throw. The Pistons twice tied the game on Charlie Villanueva baskets in the last five minutes after trailing by 18 early in the third quarter. Greg Monroe had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Pistons and Andre Drummond came off the bench to put up nine points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals. Pau Gasol had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers and Bryant 18 points.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons were on the verge of getting run out of The Palace five minutes into the third quarter after scoring on just one of their first nine possessions while the Lakers expanded their 11-point halftime lead to 18. Brandon Knight, at the time shooting 1 of 10, was given a quick hook by Lawrence Frank in favor of Will Bynum. The game turned 180 at that moment as the Pistons ran off a quick six points and finished the third quarter on an 18-6 run to pull within six points entering the fourth quarter. Bynum finished with 18 points and 10 assists and came within a tough bounce of riding off as the hero.

RED FLAG – Despite spotty defense that allowed the Lakers to shoot 65 percent in the first quarter and well above 50 percent for the entire first half, the Pistons were within five points with under a minute to play before halftime. But they committed turnovers on their last three possessions, allowing the Lakers to close the half with a 6-0 spurt and an 11-point halftime lead. The final one was especially disheartening. Brandon Knight pump-faked Steve Nash off his feet and Nash crushed Knight with 2.8 seconds left, but because it wasn’t a shooting foul and the Pistons weren’t yet in the penalty, they had to take the ball out of bounds. A backcourt violation resulted when Greg Monroe fumbled the pass. The Lakers had the ball at half-court with fourth-tenths of a second remaining. Kobe Bryant’s inbounds lob pass resulted in an Earl Clark dunk.

Two halves, two teams, two last-second sideline-out-of-bounds plays, two different results. There’s a fine line between winning and losing in the NBA. The Pistons are pushing ever closer to it. But the Lakers scored as the first-half buzzer sounded on their long-shot play and Andre Drummond’s attempt to tap home Kyle Singler’s lob from the far sideline failed in the second half. Bottom line: Los Angeles left The Palace on the right side of a 98-97 final.

Lawrence Frank won’t focus so much on that – except that Earl Clark’s dunk of Kobe Bryant’s inbounds lob came as part of a disastrous, error-filled final minute of the first half that allowed the Lakers to turn a six-point lead into an 11-point gap.

Frank won’t even dwell on the agonizing what-might-have-been of Will Bynum’s in-and-out layup with three seconds to go that would have put the Pistons ahead 99-98 and left Bynum distraught in the aftermath after he willed the Pistons from 18 points behind.

“It’s never that play,” Frank said. “It’s just like I told Will – Will was so disappointed. Look, without Will Bynum, we’re not in this position. He changed the game. My thing is, what to focus on? Sixty-two points (allowed) in the first half. The last 27 seconds of the first half. How we came out to begin the third quarter the first five minutes. We did a lot of things right after that point. We can play better and we will play better. I’m proud of the fight and resolve. But we want more.”

The Pistons got double-doubles from Bynum (18 points, 10 assists) and Greg Monroe (20 points, 12 rebounds) and a near double-double from Andre Drummond (nine points, 11 boards, four blocks, two steals). They got a bounce-back fourth quarter from Charlie Villanueva, who missed all four of his first-half shots but scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and hit baskets that tied the game at 91 and 95.

But the Lakers got the big plays the Pistons couldn’t. After Kyle Singler – “Kyle Singler played one hell of a game,” Frank said, “I mean, one hell of a game – you’re going against one of the top players that’s ever played the game and he was right there – forced Bryant into an air ball with 1:41 to play, the Pistons had a shot to take the lead. But Brandon Knight’s corner three bounced out and Bryant, on the next trip, got a half-step on Singler, converted a tough running layup and drew the foul to put the Lakers ahead by three with 1:09 to play.

That’s when Bynum turned the corner on Bryant, beat Pau Gasol to the rim and arched the ball high over Gasol’s hand. The ball caromed off the backboard to the inside of the front rim, skipped to the inside of the back rim – and kicked out.

“It’s tough, man,” Bynum said. “I work so hard and thrive on being in situations like that. To be in that and not deliver is kind of crushing sometimes. Especially when my teammates trust me and the coaching staff trusts me to make the right decisions. The basketball gods just didn’t … it wasn’t my night.”

The game was a shootout for about the first 15 minutes when the Lakers had already scored 39 points but led by just four. Turnovers – an area the Pistons have to believe will be less troublesome once Jose Calderon’s visa issues are resolved and he has the ball in his hands for a big chunk of the game – cost the Pistons dearly in the first half, the Lakers scoring 16 points off nine miscues, three of them coming in that chaotic final minute.

“A couple of turnovers in that span – you can point to that,” Monroe said. “It’s a bunch of things that happened over the course of the game that might have been different for us.”

As effective as Monroe was, Frank rolled with Drummond and Villanueva down the stretch. All of Drummond’s nine points and nine of his 11 rebounds, both of his steals and half of his four blocks came after halftime in an eye-opening 14-minute run.

“There are definitely times when Andre deserves more time,” Frank said. “In the first half, I think he deserved the time he got. What I was proud of was he was a totally different player in the second half. He played with unbelievable energy, between finishes at the rim from the lobs from Will, the blocks – he was a different player. Which was great, because some guys, whether young or veteran, struggle in the first half and they can’t get out of their own way. I was proud of the way he bounced back and played inspired basketball in the second half.”

But Frank won’t get the blot of the game’s first 29 minutes out of his mind. The Lakers shot 57 percent in the first half and converted five dunks or layups in the opening minutes of the third quarter to swell their lead to 72-54. That’s when Frank made the call for Bynum, who immediately led a 6-0 run and was the catalyst for an 18-6 closing rush to the third quarter to pull the Pistons within six.

“We changed the way we were playing,” Frank said. “We weren’t moving the ball. We were overdribbling the basketball and we weren’t guarding anyone. Then we started to get some stops. We got energy into the game. Dre had a huge impact in the second half, Greg was very, very good, Charlie. It comes down to, really, one shot. But to win it, it’s all those possessions of not giving us the focused basketball we need to have.”

If coming back from 18 points behind against the Lakers is one measure of how far the Pistons have come, perhaps another is the fact they left The Palace less impressed with their comeback than their inability to close.

“It’s a loss,” Bynum said. “No matter how you play – two points, 50 points – if you lose, everything is for nothing.”