Wild Win in Milwaukee
Those two players were in the same frame of the picture that defined Saturday’s game: Charlie V taking a twisting pass from Will Bynum, allowing Ilyasova to fly past him on a harried closeout, calmly gathering himself as the shot clock hit 2 seconds before letting a 3-point shot fly from the top of the arc. There were 10 seconds left in the game and the score was tied at 100. Rodney Stuckey raised his arms to the roof even as Villanueva released the shot, which ruffled the nets at the far end of the court from the erupting Detroit bench.
Brandon Jennings heaved a wild 3-pointer from 40 feet, attempting to draw a foul, and the Pistons clinched it with two Rodney Stuckey free throws.
“It feels great,” Villanueva said after the 105-100 win. “I don’t even know who passed me the ball, but once it hit my hands I knew it was in. It was a big game, especially here in Milwaukee, where I called it home once.”
Playing their second game without Andre Drummond and their fourth with Jose Calderon, the Pistons are remaking themselves at both ends as the season hits the two-thirds pole. What they miss on the defensive end without Drummond, they’re getting back on the other side with Calderon, who was brilliant with 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting – including an opportunistic driving layup to tie the game at 100 – to go with 10 assists, five rebounds and three steals against three turnovers.
Calderon now has 30 assists and six turnovers with the Pistons. When they looked rattled in the second half, falling 10 points behind after leading by 13 early in the second quarter and committing turnovers in bunches, Calderon reeled them back in with his words and his actions.
“It doesn’t matter if we make mistakes – everyone is going to make a turnover one time. Just don’t make two in a row,” Calderon said. “Just slow down, let’s get one shot, but don’t get another turnover. We want to play with pace, (but) one thing is playing fast, other thing is shoot fast. We’ve got to try to find that combination.”
“That’s what a point guard does,” Lawrence Frank said. “We had seven turnovers in the third quarter. We were just too sloppy with the basketball. The game started to tilt in their favor. He, not just settling us down, but making some key shots, just kept the guys confident. To have that guy to be able to give that calmness to our group, just with his play, he was very, very impressive tonight.”
But the night belonged to Calderon’s old Toronto Raptor teammate, Charlie V, not just for his 18 points, but at least as much for his 13 rebounds, including a critical defensive board on the possession that set up his game-winner.
“I’m trying to fill in the void for Andre,” he said. “Andre was a big part of what we’re trying to do. In his void, other guys are trying to step up and I’ve taken that challenge.”
“When he starts hitting shots, you know he’s going to be ready always to shoot it,” Calderon said. “When he hits that first one or two, he is caliente,” – ‘hot” in Spanish “The last two games, he’s been like that.”
“Charlie was huge,” Frank said. “Great job on the glass, and obviously the huge rebound at the end after we got the stop. But it’s the ability to play both ends as he’s done the last two games, because we all know what he can do. Offensively, he’s a very, very skilled guy. As long as we keep moving the ball, the ball will find the open man.”
Greg Monroe recorded his 23rd double-double of the season with 14 points, 13 boards, four assists and four steals. It marked the first time the Pistons have had three players with double-doubles in the same game since Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Chauncey Billups did it on Feb. 6, 2008 against Miami.
“As a team, we did a good job of staying poised,” said Monroe, who logged 35 minutes after playing 40 on Friday as the Pistons wrapped up a stretch of five games in seven nights. “Charlie hit a bit shot, but we got some stops late, executed on offense. It definitely is a testament to the growth of our team. Guys know what it takes to win games like this. We’ve been in this position a lot this season.”
The Pistons also got 19 points from Stuckey and 12 from Bynum as part of a 49-point bench effort. Frank, one night after shortening the rotation to eight, used nine on Saturday, but Slava Kravtsov saw just four first-half minutes.
“It was a great fight,” Frank said. “We had to keep on throwing different combinations. I’m just proud of our grit. That game looked like it was going south and we stayed the course.”