Out with a Win

Big nights for Monroe, Bynum, Calderon – and Kravtsov’s D saves Pistons

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Greg Monroe became the first Piston since Grant Hill 17 years ago to post eight straight double-doubles and he took the suspense out of it early by racking up 11 points and eight rebounds in the first quarter alone, finishing with 16 points and 18 rebounds. But the Pistons kept the suspense going a lot longer than that before pulling away in a 96-85 win. They used two 11-0 runs in the fourth quarter, the first to give them a six-point lead and the second to break a 76-all tie. It was a big night for their point guards: Jose Calderon knocked down 6 of 9 3-point shots on his way to 24 points, while Will Bynum, who scored the first six points of the second 11-0 run, came off the bench to score 20 in 21 minutes.

BLUE COLLAR – With Andre Drummond out with a back injury, Slava Kravtsov is sometimes in the rotation and sometimes not – it usually depends on the makeup of the oppostion’s bench. Kravtsov came on early in the fourth quarter to give Greg Monroe what was supposed to be a brief rest. But the Pistons played such staunch defense after Kravtsov entered – stopping Washington on nine straight possessions – that Lawrence Frank rode him for six full minutes. Kravtsov finished a lob dunk from Will Bynum during that stretch and grabbed a key offensive rebound that led to two points. He also had a blocked shot and two steals.

RED FLAG – In every game plan, you concede something. It makes sense that the Pistons would have invited their last two opponents to go to non-scoring big men Robin Lopez and Emeka Okafor, but they got burned in both cases with Lopez scored 23 points in Monday’s loss to New Orleans and Washington’s Okafor went for 20 points – all of them in the first three quarters – which was more than double his per-game average. When the Pistons shackled Okafor in the fourth quarter, they outscored Washington 31-17.

If the old bromide about center and point guard being a basketball team’s two most critical positions remains valid, then the Pistons were destined to win Wednesday’s All-Star getaway game.

Point guards Jose Calderon and Will Bynum combined for 44 points, Calderon draining 6 of 9 long-distance shots on his way to a game-high 24 points and Bynum racking up 20 points and eight assists in just 21 minutes off the bench.

Greg Monroe, meanwhile, had joined Grant Hill as the only Pistons over the last 17 years with eight straight double-doubles – and Monroe did it by halftime, finishing with 16 points and 18 rebounds.

But if the contributions of Slava Kravtsov don’t jump off the box score with nearly the force of those three, they were perhaps no less critical to the win.

The little-used Ukrainian rookie anchored Detroit’s defense during an 11-0 run early in the fourth quarter when the Pistons came from five points down and stoned Washington on nine straight possessions. Kravtsov finished with four points on two dunks, blocked a shot, recorded two steals and came up with an important offensive rebound that led to two points in 14 rock-solid minutes.

“Slava’s great,” said Bynum, who rewarded Kravtsov’s defensive showing with a lob that capped the 11-0 run to put the Pistons ahead 76-70 with 6:29 to play. “He’s big out there. He’s a force in the paint. Whenever he’s playing defense like that, you want to get him something easy and that’s what I was trying to do out there.”

“I thought he was instrumental,” Lawrence Frank said of Kravtsov, whose spot in the rotation since Andre Drummond went down with his back injury is usually matchup dependent. “We held them to two points (in the first 5:54 of the fourth quarter, which came on two Trevor Ariza free throws on Washington’s first possession of the quarter). His paint protection, he was great. He played good post defense. I don’t know if he had a rebound, but just his length, his energy, his screens for Will, getting Will open … I just really liked the defensive energy of that group.”

After Washington broke through with its own 6-0 run to tie the game at 76, Frank went back to Monroe and Calderon, pairing the latter with Bynum. Bynum ran off the next six straight points, then found Calderon for an open corner three and the Pistons were off and running toward their second 11-0 run of the quarter, this one a clincher.

Calderon had put up 39 assists against just seven turnovers in his first five games, but the Wizards turned him into a shooter. For three quarters, the Pistons struggled to shoot 40 percent and Calderon was one of the few making shots, which partly explained why he wound up with only three assists. He played off the ball in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter with Bynum directing the offense.

“It’s chemistry,” Bynum said of learning to play with Calderon. “It’s learning each other. It’s the first couple of games together. I’m sure as we continue to play together, we’re going to play better and better. I’m loving it and I look forward to continue playing with him.

“It’s kind of what the league is doing right now. It’s great. It’s a matchup problem for other teams. I’m never concerned about competition or nothing like that. I invite that. It’s been here since I’ve been here. I never complain. I’m going to get after it every day. I’m going to make him better every single day. It’s all about the team. It’s all about us getting wins and that’s what I’m all about.”

In their 31-point fourth quarter, Bynum scored 12 points and Charlie Villanueva added seven to go with two rebounds and a blocked shot. Villanueva also hit a huge 3-point shot that resulted in a four-point play to put the Pistons ahead 71-70 on a night they played from behind for the entire second half until that point.

“It was huge,” said Kyle Singler, solid again with 12 points and seven boards while keeping the resurgent Martell Webster under wraps, of that momentum changer. “Big shot. But what was great was we got big plays from everyone tonight. Everyone stepped up, played well and it was a good team win.”

And it came against a Washington team that had been on a tear since John Wall returned from a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for the first 33 games. The Wizards, 5-28 when Wall returned, were 10-7 with him and on a four-game win streak before Wednesday’s loss, and they’d been the NBA’s top defensive team over that time.

“They were on a roll,” Singler said. “We knew they were going to come in and play us well. It was a good win for us, especially coming off the loss against New Orleans. It was important for us to play well going into the break.”

The Pistons are off until Tuesday, when they host Memphis – with Tayshaun Prince in the starting lineup and Austin Daye coming off the bench. The team that put up 31 points on Washington in the fourth quarter – with Jose Calderon dropping 3-point bombs and Slava Kravtsov anchoring the paint on defense – is one Prince would barely recognize.