Clawed

Pistons start strong, but get buried by Memphis in Prince’s Palace return

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – The Pistons came back from the All-Star break with not a spot of rust on them, sizzling in the first quarter and taking a 30-22 lead. They oxidized between quarters. Memphis, led by its bench, turned the tables in the second quarter by turning up the heat defensively and closed the first half with a 23-3 run, turning a nine-point deficit into an 11-point lead. The Pistons, after making 13 baskets in the first quarter, made only 11 in the second and third combined and fell behind by 27 points in the third quarter before losing 105-91 as the bench played a spirited fourth quarter. Brandon Knight and Jonas Jerebko scored 13 apiece to lead the Pistons, Jerebko’s points coming in just 11 fourth-quarter minutes.

BLUE COLLAR – An honorary Blue Collar goes to Tayshaun Prince, who wore it proudly for his 10-plus seasons with the Pistons. Prince played a subdued game in his return to The Palace, playing just the first 10 minutes of each half and finished with four points and three rebounds, making 2 of 7 shots but holding Kyle Singler down, as well, as he finished with seven points and two rebounds. The other returning ex-Piston, Austin Daye, played just three minutes in the first half but finished with six points, three rebounds and two assists.

RED FLAG – The bench that had been so important to the Pistons’ improved play over the past few months sputtered badly in the second quarter. After the starters handed them an eight-point cushion, the bench struggled to hang on to the ball and to put it in the basket when they weren’t turning it over. Charlie Villanueva, Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey didn’t make a basket in a combined 25-plus first-half minutes as the Pistons fell behind by double digits after leading by 11 points. The only baskets from Detroit’s bench in the first half – two – came from Slava Kravtsov. Villanueva finished 1 of 8 in 17 minutes.

Lawrence Frank came back from the All-Star break with a handful of bullet points for the Pistons – the things they’d need to improve to finish the season’s final 28 games with more wins than losses.

Among the items on his checklist were better protection of their paint, making wiser decisions with the basketball and becoming a more powerful defensive rebounding team. They came up short across the board in a disastrous middle two quarters. Memphis closed the half with a dominant run to turn a nine-point deficit into an 11-point lead and kept expanding its lead in the third quarter, taking it to 27 points at the four-minute mark.

Tayshaun Prince’s return faded into the background as he was glued to Memphis’ bench during the game’s critical stretch – a 23-3 run the Grizzlies used to seize control going into halftime. After a 30-point first quarter in which they scored 13 baskets, the Pistons managed just 30 more over the middle two quarters when they managed a mere 11 field goals.

The Pistons were undone by the items Frank stressed before the game:

  • Turnovers – Memphis forced them – or the Pistons coughed them up, depending on your perspective – into nine turnovers in the second quarter alone, converted into 12 easy points. The Pistons committed 17 for the game, Memphis converting seemingly each one into a transition dunk.

  • Easy baskets – The Pistons surrendered a whopping 62 points in the paint, many of them the result of their turnovers but too many more in a variety of other ways.

  • Offensive rebounds – Memphis grabbed 40 percent of the available rebounds on its offensive end – an alarming rate – in the first half when it was doing the bulk of its scoring either on put-backs or Pistons turnovers.

    “That was all us,” Will Bynum said of the turnovers. “We knew going into the game what kind of defensive team they were and most of the turnovers we had were unforced. They had (62) points in the paint. We can’t accept that. That’s way too many points, some video game, to have points like that in the paint.”

    Frank was predictably perturbed by the lack of resolve the Pistons displayed once Memphis began to claw its way back from an early 25-14 deficit.

    “The game changed in the second quarter – turnovers, not moving the ball, defensively giving up easy paint scores,” he said. “Once we lost the lead and they totally became the instigators and aggressors … to me, Tony Allen and (Quincy) Pondexter totally changed the whole game, just by playing hard. When we subbed back in, we no longer trusted the pass. Our effort started to wane.”

    From the end of the first quarter to the four-minute mark of the third quarter, the Pistons were outscored 56-21.

    “They got into the passing lanes more, they got on the break,” said Greg Monroe, whose streak of eight straight double-doubles died as he played only 23 minutes, finishing with nine points and six rebounds. “It’s something coming into the game we knew we had to make the right decisions, make crisp passes, and the first (quarter) we were making the right plays, making sure they didn’t get out on the break. We kind of lost focus of that in the second quarter.”

    The second unit that gave the Pistons such a lift for a long stretch in December and January sputtered, perhaps a result of missing the dynamic provided by Andre Drummond’s athleticism. Charlie Villanueva shot 1 of 8 for the game, Rodney Stuckey managed just four shots in 24 minutes and Bynum had five points and two assists in 18 minutes. The only baskets from the bench in the first half came from Slava Kravtsov, who finished with eight points, four boards and a blocked shot.

    “Sometimes you have a bad game or two,” Bynum said. “I’m not worried about that. We’ll bounce back and play well. We just came off the break – guys are still kind of rusty.”

    If there was anything good that came out of this one, it was the play of the back end of the bench. Jonas Jerebko matched Brandon Knight’s 13 points to lead the Pistons, hitting all five of his shots and contributing four assists and two rebounds in 11 minutes. Kim English had six points, five assists and four rebounds in 16 minutes. Khris Middleton hit 3 of 5 shots for six points in his nine-minute stint.

    “At least that group that finished the game played hard, competed, shared the basketball,” Frank said. “At least they played with more purpose than our group did as a whole. You saw the fight. You could feel the energy.”

    Prince had an easy night, playing 20 minutes and scoring four points, leaving late in the third quarter for good. He drew a rousing ovation when introduced before the game and got another loud cheer when a video tribute to him played on the scoreboard during an early timeout.

    “I expected it for the simple fact of what they’ve done for other guys that were here,” he said. “I knew the fans would be appreciative. They were always appreciative when I was here. Just a fun night for us.”

    Not so fun for the Pistons, who are certain to hear more about protecting the paint, taking care of the basketball and cleaning up the defensive glass before taking the court against Charlotte on Wednesday night.