A Long Night

Shorthanded Pistons sputter, lose big to Nets in Frank’s return game

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Deron Williams dealt with leg injuries and wasn’t playing like a three-time All-Star when the Pistons met Brooklyn twice earlier this season, but he was back in form Monday. Williams scored 14 to pace a 36-point Nets first quarter as Brooklyn established command early and never let the Pistons get close. Brooklyn led by 13 after one quarter, 14 at halftime and 31 after three en route to a 119-82 win. Williams finished with 31 points in just 28 minutes to lead six Nets in double figures as Brooklyn shot 54 percent. Greg Monroe made all eight of his first-half shots, but took only two and didn’t make any after halftime, finishing with 17 points. Will Bynum had 18 to lead the Pistons.

BLUE COLLAR – Nets forward Reggie Evans, a Michigan native, has a well below average NBA skill set, but he does one thing particularly well: play hard. Evans’ relentless motor and fearlessness translates to one of the NBA’s most productive rebounders and he was at it again for Brooklyn at The Palace, finishing with 11 rebounds in 27 minutes to help Brooklyn finish with a 41-33 edge off the glass.

RED FLAG – The Pistons have clearly slipped on defense since Andre Drummond’s absence, which puts greater pressure on their offense to keep pace. It doesn’t help when they misfire badly from the 3-point line, as they did on Monday. They missed all 10 of their 3-point tries in the first half and didn’t make one until Charlie Villanueva entered the game midway through the third quarter. The Pistons finished 1 of 18 from the arc for the night, being outscored 27-3 on a night they lost by 37.

Andre Drummond was a big part of the Pistons’ improved defense over the season’s first 50 games – and maybe a bigger part than even they realized at the time – but Lawrence Frank’s faith that defense will be the touchstone for a franchise renaissance transcends roster makeup and goes to mind-set.

“The thing that we have to restore is pride in being a Piston,” Frank said. “As we’ve struggled post-All-Star break, that’s one of the things that stands out. As you have time to reflect, that’s something that stands out to me. We have to, every single day, figure out a way to restore the pride in being a part of this team, because we’re a whole lot more capable than what we’re doing.”

He said that before Monday’s game, when the Pistons suffered a particularly one-sided loss, falling by 37 points – their worst home loss of the season and second only to their March 3 39-point loss at San Antonio among all games – to the Brooklyn Nets. Almost every ugly loss of the season has come over the past month since returning from the All-Star break.

“This is our fifth game like that since the break,” Frank said. “As a group, we stunk. We were bad. It’s just disheartening to watch. We’re all part of it. The only way we’re going to get this together is to fight harder. To take it like we did tonight is disappointing.”

Frank was back after missing the past six games over two weeks while his wife, Susan, recuperated from major surgery. The team he watched from afar give up an average of 112 points a game on the winless four-game West Coast road trip, in which opponents shot 55 percent, was the one he saw up close against Brooklyn. The Nets scored 119 – including 36 in the first quarter and 31 in the third, when they completely broke open a 14-point halftime lead – and shot 54 percent.

“Defensively, obviously we have to be better,” said Greg Monroe, who made all eight of his first-half shots but scored just one free throw in the second half, finishing with 17 points. “They made some tough shots, but there were still some things we could control as a team to kind of stop what they were doing.”

Deron Williams barely resembled the superstar the Nets acquired a little more than two years ago when the Pistons lost two tightly contested games to Brooklyn earlier this season. But he looked like he was worth every bit of the massive free-agent contract he signed last summer on his return trip to The Palace, scoring 14 points in the first quarter and finishing with 31 in just 28 minutes, hitting half of his eight 3-point tries on a night the Pistons managed to make only 1 of 18 triples.

“He is playing at such a high level right now and your point guard always sets the tone,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “He is moving the ball, he is shooting the ball so well, he is playing with confidence, and he defends and sets good screens. There are a lot of things he does that people do not appreciate or do not understand.”

The Pistons, meanwhile, played shorthanded in the backcourt. Brandon Knight missed his third straight game since spraining his ankle a week ago at Utah and Jose Calderon left with flu-like symptoms after eight minutes. That left Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, who led the Pistons with 18 points, to carry the load with help from rookie Kim English.

“It hurts,” Bynum said. “It hurts mentally. You try not to take home this frustration to your family. You just try to stay as positive as possible and keep moving forward.”

One other big piece of the puzzle missing since early February – which roughly coincides with the defensive regression of the Pistons – is Andre Drummond. Frank spoke before the game of seeing noticeable improvement in Drummond during his two weeks away from the team. Drummond did some full-court drills in the morning and went through shootaround prior to the game and Frank expressed hope that Drummond could get back before the season ended. As to how much Drummond’s absence has affected the Pistons defensively …

“We can play better,” Bynum said, “but Andre’s a big piece of what we’re trying to do here.”

It doesn’t get any easier. The Pistons, now saddled with a season-high nine-game losing streak, play next on Friday at Miami. Assuming the surging Heat win at Cleveland on Wednesday, they’ll take a 23-game winning streak into that game.