Knicked Again

Calderon’s debut marred as Pistons fall behind early and never catch up

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Almost every team has one opponent each season that it can’t solve, for reasons that involve everything from matchups to the mystical. For the Pistons this season, that team is the New York Knicks. The Knicks rolled to a 99-85 win in Jose Calderon’s Pistons debut behind a 3-point barrage and Carmelo Anthony’s 27 points. The Pistons fell behind fast, going down double digits less than seven minutes into the game and trailing by 15 (28-13) after one quarter. While their perimeter defense was shoddy, the Pistons didn’t do themselves any favors on the offensive end, either, where they shot 33 percent in the first half and trailed by as many as 26 points in the second quarter.

BLUE COLLAR – Jose Calderon didn’t rack up dazzling assist numbers in his Pistons debut, but that had more to do with the shooting of his teammates. Calderon’s first assist came at 4:50 remaining in the third quarter when he fired across court to Kyle Singler, who drained a 3-point attempt. At the time of Singler’s basket, while Calderon had made 7 of 10 shots, the other four Pistons starters were just 7 of 24. The tone was set early when Calderon found Jason Maxiell in the deep post on the first possessions, but Maxiell missed a 4-footer. Calderon finished with three assists in 26 minutes. He made 7 of 12 shots, scored a team-high 15 points and had zero turnovers.

RED FLAG – The Pistons came into Monday’s game No. 4 in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to convert at just a 33 percent clip through 48 games. But the Knicks hit 6 of 11 in the first quarter to stake themselves to a 28-13 lead. Five different Knicks – Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni – made triples in the first quarter alone. The Knicks hit 10 of their first 18 triples, all before halftime, before cooling down – but not slowing down much in jacking them up – in the second half. They finished with 14 triples to outscore the Pistons by 33 points from the arc. The Knicks made one more 3-point basket than the Pistons attempted.

NEW YORK – Jose Calderon was cleared to play early Monday afternoon and made his Pistons debut as their starting point guard six hours later in the world’s most famous arena. Probably not surprising, then, that the offense wasn’t exactly poetry in motion, but eventually the Pistons are confident Calderon’s sublime playmaking skills will make them a more consistently efficient scoring team.

They’ll have to look within, though, to figure out a way to improve their defense.

The Knicks, who have tormented them in three lopsided wins this season, made six 3-point baskets in the first quarter – about what the Pistons yield in a typical game – and 14 for the night on their way to a 99-85 win. New York outscored the Pistons by 33 points from the 3-point line.

“We allowed offensive frustration to really impact our defensive focus, effort and intensity,” Lawrence Frank said. “You dig a hell of a ditch.”

Calderon, consistently one of the NBA’s leading assist men over his eight years, didn’t pick up his first helper until 4:50 left in the third quarter and finished with three, well under his average of 7.4. But during a first half when he led the Pistons with 10 points and missed only two of seven shots, he didn’t get many chances for assists – the rest of the team shot just 10 of 39. And the starters other than Calderon were 2 of 14.

Calderon had observed intently the past two games from his perch one row behind the team’s coaching staff, taking notes as plays were executed. The coaching staff, Calderon and more than half the team arrived at Madison Square Garden about three hours before tipoff in hopes of working with him on the court, but a communications breakdown limited their time to about 10 minutes because the Knicks took over the court for a walkthrough at 5 p.m.

Calderon admitted it wasn’t the ideal way to make his debut, but was glad to have it behind him as the first step in the acclimation process.

“I tried to do the best I could,” he said. “I was thinking too much, trying to figure out all my teammates. We have to do a better job, for sure, myself, to get everybody involved. But, one game. I’ve got to try to get to the next step, the next page.”

Calderon finished with 15 points to lead the Pistons and didn’t turn the ball over once in his 26 minutes. But the Pistons went down by 26 points in the second quarter, so it was difficult for Frank to pull any meaningful conclusions out of the game. Complicating matters, Jason Maxiell picked up two fouls in three minutes and Frank replaced him with Rodney Stuckey to counter New York’s small lineup that featured three guards with Carmelo Anthony at power forward.

“In fairness, we throw Jose in there and then Max gets two fouls. We play a lineup we haven’t really played much of, but the focus was missing,” Frank said. “Some different lineups out there, that’s going to be the byproduct of where we’re at, but our inability to maintain our focus and give ourselves our best chance was disappointing.”

The Pistons, playing their third game in four nights and coming off the emotionally draining 98-97 Sunday matinee loss to the Lakers at The Palace, seemed a half-step behind the Knicks from the opening jump, giving 3-point shooters unmolested looks at the rim. Kyle Singler opened the game on Anthony and also picked up two early fouls, giving Jonas Jerebko and Stuckey a crack at New York’s MVP candidate, who finished with 27 points, 19 in the decisive first half.

Andre Drummond, after grabbing five rebounds in nine first-half minutes, didn’t play in the second half due to a sore back. He hurt it in Sunday’s game, he said, coming down awkwardly after attempting to block a Steve Blake shot. But he was adamant that he would be ready for Wednesday’s game at The Palace against Brooklyn.

“I just couldn’t get it loose,” he said. “It’s tough – hotel beds and not being in your own bed. Take care of it tonight and tomorrow in practice and get ready for Wednesday. I’ll be all right for Wednesday.”

Another 48 hours can’t hurt Calderon’s level of readiness for his home debut, either.

“Hopefully, tomorrow I can work a little bit more and get ready for Wednesday,” he said. “It was tough, but I still got some positive. My teammates were helping me a lot and I feel kind of comfortable out there.”

“I think Jose’s going to be very good for us,” Frank said. “It’s just going to be a process of getting all our guys on the same page.”