Wild Win in Washington

Knight’s career-best 32 points, Calderon’s 18 assists just enough for Pistons

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Brandon Knight didn't take any time to ease back into the swing of things following a three-game absence with a knee injury, and Jose Calderon had a nearly historic game alongside him with 18 assists and zero turnovers – until two in the final minute almost allowed Washington to make an unlikely comeback before losing 96-95. Knight scored a career-high 32 points and hit 5 of 6 3-point shots, but the Pistons dodged a bullet when Trevor Ariza's attempted game winner from the corner at the buzzer didn't fall. A clear-path foul called on Will Bynum after Calderon’s turnover with 12 seconds left gave Ariza two free throws and Washington the ball. Greg Monroe added 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Pistons, who led by nine points with 1:06 to play before Ariza hit two 3-pointers leading to the clear-path foul and Washington’s chance to pull out the win.

BLUE COLLAR – Jason Maxiell hasn’t had many games of late where he’s made as many high-impact plays as he did in the win over the Wizards. Maxiell finished with four points, eight rebounds, three assists and four blocked shots. He had a huge offensive rebound in the fourth quarter when the Wizards had made their charge that led to a Kyle Singler basket, giving the Pistons a nine-point lead with 3:12 to play – and they needed every last point.

RED FLAG – The Pistons have made strides defensively over Lawrence Frank’s first season, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride at that end in their first six games since the All-Star break. Over that time, the Pistons have given up 30 or more points in seven of 24 quarters, an alarming rate, and had seven other quarters where they’ve given up at least 25. The Pistons countered Washington’s 31-point second quarter by holding the Wizards to just 13 in the third quarter, though, when they turned a four-point halftime deficit into a 14-point lead.

WASHINGTON – If Jose Calderon were a pitcher instead of a point guard, his teammates would have avoided talking to him somewhere around halftime, lest they jinx his perfect game. Calderon went into Wednesday night’s final minute – the equivalent of the bottom of the ninth with two outs – with 18 assists and zero turnovers.

To understand the significance of that, consider: Since the 1985-86 season, when such records began being kept in necessary detail, there have been only 10 such games recorded in the NBA – and only one such game by a Piston, some guy named Isiah Thomas.

Then Calderon committed two turnovers in the span of 31 seconds – and they almost conspired to tag him with the loss.

But the Pistons survived when Trevor Ariza’s corner jump shot at the buzzer grazed the net but missed the rim, allowing the Pistons to snap a three-game losing streak and continue their mastery of Washington – that’s 14 wins in the last 16 tries – with a 96-95 thriller.

“No idea,” Calderon said of his near-perfecto. “They told me I had two turnovers. But I was worried just about the last one. I hit my knee a little bit so I couldn’t get a good pass to Will (Bynum). I almost gave the game away, but happy with the way it turned out.”

Bynum was left to grab at Ariza, resulting in a clear-path foul that challenged the remaining three points of what had been a 16-point Pistons lead late in the third quarter and still a nine-point lead with 1:06 to play after a Calderon layup.

But Ariza bagged two triples, one with 1:01 to play and the second with 34.9 seconds to play, which made it 96-93. The Pistons wound the clock down before Ariza deflected Calderon’s pass and headed the other way. Ariza made his two free throws, cutting the deficit to one and setting up a last play for the win for the Wizards, who had won three straight and seven of nine.

“The thing that’s so great about Jose is the first thing he did, walked in and goes, ‘My fault,’ ” Lawrence Frank said. “He controlled the whole game. Just had a great feel and pulse. The amount of easy baskets he got our guys, delivering the ball exactly at the right time.”

Calderon recorded eight assists in the first quarter as the Pistons began the game with assists on each of their first 16 baskets. By the time the streak was broken, on a Rodney Stuckey transition layup more than four minutes into the second quarter, the Pistons held a 10-point lead. But Washington went to halftime up 55-51 before a great third quarter – the Pistons outscored Washington 31-13 and held the Wizards to 29 percent shooting, led by Jason Maxiell’s paint protection – put the Pistons in position to win.

Have we mentioned yet that Brandon Knight returned from a three-game injury absence to score a career-best 32 points?

Yeah, that’s how crazy this game turned out. Knight was brilliant, scoring 18 points in the first half and adding 14 in the second, pitching in with four assists as the Pistons compiled a season-high 35 helpers. Knight made 11 of 18 shots, 5 of 6 from the 3-point arc.

“The biggest thing for us was just playing with energy,” Knight said. “That’s what I saw sitting on the side for the past three games – our lack of fight. For me, it wasn’t about making shots, it was about coming in and trying to make sure we played Pistons basketball.”

“I think we’re going to have to rest him – he’s only going to be able to play one game a week,” Frank joked. “His energy, right from the beginning, was outstanding. He just had a great bounce to his step. After time out, you always worry about rust, but I thought was very good.”

Calderon kept finding Knight with perfectly timed passes as Knight ran off of baseline screens, the pair beginning to develop the chemistry that high-functioning backcourt partners require despite limited getting-to-know-you opportunities.

“He can give us a lot of things, driving the ball, shooting the ball,” Calderon said. “With him out of calling plays or dribbling the ball, he’s got more freedom to do what he did tonight. That’s why I’m here – to try to help him get those shots.”

“It’s been a short period – we’ve only had two practices (with Calderon since the late-January trade),” Frank said. “This is Brandon’s second year in the league and just because we’re saying you’re not the point guard, you’re still a guard – you’re a player. As he adjusts on the run and Jose does a very good job of finding him and trying to get him in his spots, they’ll continue to develop a comfort zone with each other. But it takes time.”

Calderon also made several slick passes to Greg Monroe, who put up another double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds on 12 of 17 shots. Monroe knocked down mid-range jump shots, an important next step in his development.

As Frank has vowed, he continued to try new lineups. For the first time, Knight, Calderon and Bynum shared the floor over a four-minute stretch to close the first half. Kim English got 12 minutes and made them count, scoring eight of his 10 points in the first half and hitting consecutive triples in the second quarter. Frank again used all three power forwards – Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva – in the first half.

There were too many positives to have it end in a loss, which it appeared might happen as Ariza’s potential game winner cut an arc through the air just feet from the visitor’s bench.

“We have to clean it up and get better,” Frank said, “but I like the fight and the resolve. I was very confident in their confidence that we were going to win the game. Regardless of a turnover or a missed free throw or a missed defensive assignment, we still had the bigger picture of, ‘We’re going to find a way to win this game.’ Proud of our group.”