Battling in the Bay

Shorthanded Pistons put up a fight as Stuckey, Maxiell have big nights in loss to Warriors

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Golden State started both halves at scorching offensive clips. The Pistons recovered from the first-half blitz – the Warriors led 15-5 barely three minutes into the game after scoring on each of their first six possessions – but not from the second flurry. The Warriors broke a 50-50 halftime tie by hitting 12 of their first 15 shots in the third quarter to open a 12-point lead. The Pistons cut it to three early in the fourth quarter before losing their seventh straight game, 105-97. Stephen Curry led Golden State with 31 points on 11 of 17 shooting, including 5 of 7 from the 3-point line, while David Lee racked up 20 points and 15 rebounds. Rodney Stuckey, starting in place of the injured Brandon Knight, led the Pistons with 22 points to go with five assists.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons are a much better team when they get the type of production out of power forward they got at Golden State. Jason Maxiell, back in the lineup after missing Monday’s loss at Utah with an ankle sprain, grabbed five rebounds in the first quarter and finished eight points and 14 boards. Jonas Jerebko came off the bench and led the Pistons as they came from 12 points down to a halftime tie, scoring 11 points to go with four boards. Combined production from their power forwards: 19 points, 18 rebounds and five assists.

RED FLAG – Greg Monroe missed his first eight shots, three of them being blocked, and grew frustrated at the lack of foul calls, a recurring theme. He shot just one free throw Monday at Utah in a very physical game and shot 5 of 6 from the line against Golden State. Monroe recovered to hit three of his next seven shots but finished 4 of 16 in a 13-point, seven-rebound performance.

OAKLAND, Calif. – Down two key players in Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight, the Pistons saw in Wednesday’s loss at Golden State what could be when they’re healthy and they get the kind of production out of two key positions lacking for much of the season.

Rodney Stuckey, starting for the injured Brandon Knight, scored 22 points and got to the foul line six times. Hard to believe he went three straight games earlier this month without a basket, but when Stuckey is attacking the basket and getting to the foul line the Pistons have a much different offensive dynamic. Stuckey led five Pistons in double figures as they came back from double-digit deficits in both halves and pushed a hot Golden State team to the final minute before losing 105-97.

“We’re dangerous with Stuck attacking like that,” said Will Bynum, who added 16 points and four assists off the bench. “Nobody can guard him when he’s attacking. We need that from him.”

Stuckey, who added five assists, has had success both as a starter and a reserve, so he wasn’t assigning his success to being back in the starting lineup after Knight rolled his left ankle in Monday’s loss at Golden State. But he did attribute it to having more opportunities to play to his strength.

“I just want my role to be more,” he said. “I’m not trying to be, ‘I need this, I need that.’ I just know that being aggressive, attacking the hoop is my game. In order to do that, I’m going to need the ball a little bit more in my hands, just to create for myself and my teammates. I’m not a selfish player at all. I’m always a team player, but just having the ball in my hands and creating for my teammates is what I do.”

At power forward, meanwhile, the Pistons got a combined 19 points and 18 boards from Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko. It speaks to the inconsistency the Pistons have endured at that position that Lawrence Frank recently decided he would play all three of Maxiell, Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva in each game, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with one of them. But when they’re getting the type of play they got out of both Maxiell and Jerebko against Golden State, there’s no need to go to a third player and Villanueva, in fact, didn’t play on a night Brian Hill, still filling in while Frank attends to a family health matter, used just eight players.

“Stuckey, from the beginning of the game, he was aggressive,” Greg Monroe said. “Jonas was aggressive when he got in. Max was on the boards playing hard, as he always does.”

“Max is the ultimate competitor,” Hill said of Maxiell, back in the starting lineup after sitting out the Utah loss with a right ankle sprain. “You just love the energy and the toughness he brings night in and night out. And when Rodney is in an engaged and attacking mode like he was tonight, he’s a tough guy to cover. I hope we can get the same thing from those guys in Portland and a couple of other guys chip in.”

Without Knight’s 3-point shooting and infectious energy, the Pistons were a few points short offensively. And without Drummond’s rebounding and lane protection, they were just a little too compliant defensively. The Warriors scored 15 points on their first six possessions of the game to take a quick 10-point lead, then after the Pistons fought back to tie it at halftime, Golden State scored on nine of 10 possessions to start the second half and led by 12.

The Pistons cut it to three points early in the fourth quarter, though, after Stuckey’s 13-point third quarter helped them stay within arm’s length of Golden State even though the Warriors would shoot 67 percent for the quarter.

“It was the beginning of the game that disappointed me the most,” Hill said. “The first six possessions they scored on, we made basically game-plan mistakes or just a lack of effort. But from that point on, I thought we played hard and I thought we played pretty well. The start of the third quarter, we missed three layups that went in and came right back out again. They wouldn’t have gotten off to that type of start if those layups go in, so other than the start of the game I have no gripe about the effort tonight.”

Hill said by his staff’s count, the Pistons missed 27 shots in the paint. Monroe missed his first eight shots and finished 4 of 16, pointing the finger at himself for inefficiency.

“If we missed 27 shots, then I got about half of ’em,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. I have to do a better job. Four for 16 – that can’t happen. It’s not like I’m chucking up a bunch of jump shots and shooting threes. When guys are playing hard and giving all they’ve got, I have to finish.”

Missed bunnies aside, it’s tough to win on the road – or anywhere, for that matter – when the opposition shoots 57 percent. Guards Stephen Curry (11 of 17) and Jarrett Jack (7 of 11 off the bench) combined for 50 points, 31 for Curry, who knocked down 5 of 7 triples.

“Steph Curry, I mean, you’re talking about a guy who’s developed himself into one of the best point guards in the league right now,” Hill said. “He can shoot the ball from basically anywhere on the floor. I was disappointed in giving Jarrett Jack as many opportunities as we gave him tonight and a lot of ’em were simple mistakes.”

They were the kind of mistakes the Pistons might have survived with a full cast, Brandon Knight to punch up the offense and Andre Drummond to fortify the defense. They’re the kind of mistakes they might survive more often when they’re getting the type of production out of Rodney Stuckey and their power forwards they got in a hard-fought game at Golden State.