Road Winners

Pistons overcome Knight injury behind Monroe, strong backcourt play


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

White Hot – Brandon Knight was headed for one of his best games of the season with 21 points, five assists and three rebounds on 7 of 11 shooting – including 3 of 4 from the 3-point arc – when he absorbed an offensive foul from Kemba Walker and suffered a hyperextended right knee late in the third quarter. He returned for one possession early in the fourth quarter, fell to the floor defensively and got up limping badly before the Pistons called timeout and removed him. The Pistons led by nine points at the time and pushed the lead to 90-79 before Charlotte fought back within a point in the final minutes, but the Pistons never trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter in their 105-99 win. Walker led Charlotte with 24 points.

BLUE COLLAR – Greg Monroe’s streak of eight straight double-doubles came to a halt in Tuesday’s loss to Memphis, when the Pistons fell far behind in the third quarter and the starters’ minutes were limited. He didn’t manage a double-double in the win at Charlotte, but he came close to a triple-double by posting nine points, seven rebounds and seven assists through three quarters. When the Pistons needed him to score, he did that late, scoring 10 points after coming on midway through the fourth quarter for Slava Kravtsov to finish with 19. Monroe had active hands defensively, as well. Though he was officially credited with just one steal, he forced two turnovers in the game’s first four minutes by getting his hands on loose balls.

RED FLAG – For the second straight night, the Pistons – a much-improved rebounding team this season – were hurt on the boards, especially on the offensive end. Charlotte’s comeback from an 11-point deficit in the first quarter was launched by scoring some late second-chance points. Despite running up 55 points on a whopping 18 first-half assists, the Pistons still found themselves trailing by a point at halftime due largely to Charlotte’s 13-2 edge in second-chance points. The Pistons closed the early rebounding gap down, finishing behind 46-42, but second-chance points ended 18-7 in Charlotte’s favor.

CHARLOTTE – One of the footnotes to the Pistons’ acquisition of Jose Calderon was his elite free-throw shooting. Teams that consistently play from ahead and must protect late leads at the foul line benefit most from such a player, as the Goin’ to Work Pistons did so often when Chauncey Billups always had his hands on the ball late in close games.

The first payoff from that aspect of Calderon’s arsenal came Wednesday night, when he iced a 105-99 road win over Charlotte by canning five late free throws. The fact he didn’t make all six caused his face to twist in mock disgust in a happy winning locker room one night after a disquieting home loss to Memphis.

“I missed one night – it slipped from my hand,” Calderon said after his 17 points nicely augmented the 21 from Brandon Knight and 19 from Greg Monroe. “But I have the opportunity to go back again and hit two more at the end, no problem. I’m always there to get that ball. Some days I’m going to make every one, but at the end of the day it’s just about confidence in myself. My teammates were like, ‘Grab the ball, get the ball,’ so I’m happy about that, too.”

“It’s always a security blanket to know if you just get the ball inbounds to a guy,” Lawrence Frank said, “you’ve got a 90 percent chance he’s going to make ’em both.”

All four Pistons guards played big roles in their second straight road win.

Knight, in fact, was on his way to a superb game with his 21 points, five assists, three rebounds and just one turnover all coming before a late third-quarter injury scare. Knight crashed into Kemba Walker, who was called for an offensive foul, and suffered a hyperextended right knee. He returned to the game for one defensive possession early in the fourth quarter after being cleared by Pistons trainers, but twisted an ankle and hobbled off.

“I’m all right,” Knight said afterward. “Just a little bit sore, but I’m good. I haven’t been in a situation like that, so you don’t really know what’s what when you feel your knee moving around, but just thankful it wasn’t anything serious. Just sore. That’s it.”

With Knight out, Rodney Stuckey contributed seven points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter, converting consecutive and-one plays to keep the hard-charging Bobcats in the trail position. They cut an 11-point deficit to one, but never could get over the hump.

Stuckey finished with 12 points and Will Bynum had eight points and seven assists.

“They all had really good moments,” Frank said. “It’s just finding the combinations. Unfortunately, Brandon getting hurt extended other minutes, but I thought all four of those guys were very good.”

If the guards carried the ball to the goal line, it was Greg Monroe who powered it into the end zone. Patient against Charlotte’s constant double teams for the first three quarters, Monroe was flirting with a triple-double at nine points, seven boards and seven assists – and at least a few other passes of his were assists only in need of a successful jump shot.

Down the stretch, though, Monroe turned scorer. Returning for Slava Kravtsov at 6:29 of the fourth quarter, Monroe hit 3 of 4 shots and all four of his free-throw tries.

“I knew I had to be aggressive,” Monroe said. “They had been doubling me for most of the night. I had to kind of make plays for my teammates out of the double team. He was drawing up plays for me in the post and I was going to try to make the right decision like I had been doing for most of the night. At that point of the game, I was able to get to the rim.”

“Greg did a very good job,” Frank said. “We were playing through him. They went with (Byron) Mullens, trying to get more shooting. Greg had a good attack, then they tried to go offense-defense he had a really good face-up move, straight-line drive against (Bismack) Biyombo. Greg really played a very, very good offensive game. He made some great passes.”

After losing to Charlotte last month at The Palace and coming off the Memphis debacle, the Pistons left Charlotte for Indiana feeling they’d proven something to themselves, at least.

“I think we saw a little bit what this team is about,” Calderon said. “You’ve got to have some pride. It was a terrible game yesterday. We played one good quarter and we needed to bounce back. We won against a team that won last night – they were playing good basketball – and we did it on the road. You can play one bad game, but you’ve got to come back the next day and do it right.”

“I liked our resolve,” Frank said. “Our guys stayed with it. You can go down the line in terms of impact in the game, but I really thought it was a very gritty team win.”