Skinning the ’Cats

Villanueva’s big 4th quarter helps Pistons to streak-snapping win

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Charlie Villanueva scored 15 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning points on a drive with 15 seconds to play, as the Pistons snapped a 10-game losing streak with a 92-91 win at Charlotte. Villanueva hit three triples in the fourth quarter as the Pistons came back from 10 points behind in the second half. The Pistons survived two Charlotte shots to win it, Villanueva securing the defensive rebound after Josh McRoberts rebounded a Kemba Walker shot and missed the follow try. Brandon Knight returned after missing four games with a sprained ankle to score 10 points with six rebounds and four assists as five Pistons scored in double figures. Rodney Stuckey had 13 points and eight assists off the bench.

BLUE COLLAR – Lawrence Frank decided about a month ago that he was going to try to find time in each game for all three of his power forwards. He found an efficient way to do it against Charlotte, using Jonas Jerebko in effect as a backup center. All three gave the Pistons good minutes. Jason Maxiell scored 14 points and four rebounds and hit some big shots when Charlotte opened a 10-point lead in the third quarter. Jerebko had eight points and three rebounds. Villanueva, of course, was the star of the night with his huge fourth quarter.

RED FLAG – Greg Monroe has had a number of big games against Charlotte, including a 19-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist outing a month ago when the Pistons won on the road. But after logging 41 minutes in Friday’s hard-played loss at Miami, Monroe might not have had the energy reserve to finish a handful of good scoring chances. He missed his first six shots, all of them within a step of the rim. It was the only flaw in an otherwise solid game for Monroe, who chipped in with nine rebounds and eight assists. The last rebound and assist he had were huge – he grabbed Villanueva’s 3-point miss and gave him a return feed for the game-winning layup.

CHARLOTTE – For the second time in 24 hours, the Pistons found themselves up against an opponent working on a rare winning streak: 24 straight in Miami’s case, two in Charlotte’s. Snicker if you will, but the last time the Bobcats had done so was way back in mid-November, and the redemptive combination of two wins plus two days off made Charlotte a more formidable opponent than its 16-40 record suggested.

Especially at a time the Pistons are enduring the throes of their own streak, 10 straight losses after Friday’s setback to the sizzling Heat in which they invested what energy and emotion they had left following a disheartening stretch of basketball.

So their 92-91 win over Charlotte will get lost in the hubbub of March Madness, but the mixture of joy and relief on all of their faces was palpable when Charlie Villanueva secured a loose rebound before the buzzer sounded and his teammates converged on him in celebration.

“It felt really good,” said Villanueva, who scored 15 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, including the final points on a tough left-handed finish with 15 seconds to play. “That losing streak, we kind of got that monkey off our back. You could just see how excited everybody was just to get that win – and the way we did it.”

The way they did it: They came back from 10 points behind in the third quarter on a night, as Lawrence Frank would say, “It was trying to find out who was going to be the spark on a night where it looked at times like we were a step slow.”

Jason Maxiell was first to plant his flag, scoring consecutive baskets to begin eating into Charlotte’s double-digit lead. In the fourth quarter, Frank made heavy use of his bench. Brandon Knight – returning as the starter after missing the past four games with a sprained ankle – played all 12 minutes, but so did Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey off the bench. Jonas Jerebko went nearly the first nine minutes before Frank brought a leg-weary Greg Monroe, who logged 41 minutes at Miami, back with 3:38 to go, when the game got especially crazy. From that point on, there were seven lead changes.

Triples from Villanueva and Stuckey gave the Pistons two of those leads. The last two were both Villanueva baskets at the rim, both off pretty feeds from Monroe, who atoned for a 2 of 11 shooting performance by grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out eight assists. The biggest of each came on the final play, grabbing Villanueva’s missed triple and feeding him on his cut to the rim for the winning hoop.

“He was the first one in my sight,” Monroe said. “I was just trying to make sure I got it into somebody’s hands. I didn’t want another turnover. We just had a couple of turnovers before that. I didn’t want to get the rebound and not make sure we didn’t get another shot. He was the first one I saw.”

“I saw a lane open and Greg found me for two terrific passes,” Villanueva said. “I just made the baskets, but Greg was the one that found me.”

Frank liked the resolve he saw across the board, especially the way Monroe found the resiliency to contribute over rubbery legs.

“In the fourth quarter, Charlie was obviously phenomenal, same with Rodney,” he said. “And I was proud of Greg, because Greg was struggling. But he finished with eight assists. Just a kind of grind and gut it out.”

The Pistons bounced from one extreme to the other – the defending NBA champions and odds-on favorite to the team with the league’s worst record over the past two seasons – but it was good to win a game of the type they’ve lost too often this season.

“Guys stepped up tonight,” Monroe said. “That third quarter, Max had a big quarter for us. Charlie played well. Stuckey began to get aggressive and get to the goal. B Knight was playing well – he was playing very well on defense. There were a lot of guys that stepped up. The team showed a lot of fight, especially coming off of a back to back. It’s always tough to get down and to show fight really shows a lot.”

It wasn’t over after Villanueva’s basket, of course. Charlotte had two chances to change leads an eighth time in the final four minutes. Kemba Walker, who led the Bobcats with 25 points, missed a 9-footer in the lane, then Rodney Stuckey got a piece of Josh McRoberts’ follow attempt.

“I just liked the composure our guys showed,” Frank said. “I always like to look in our guys’ eyes in a close game and see where we’re at. I liked just a calmness about it – everyone into it, no panic, just good poise and we executed enough down the stretch and got the final stop to get the win.”