By the Horns

Pistons put together one of season’s most complete games to snap Bulls’ 18-game streak

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Brandon Knight scored 12 of his 20 points in the third quarter as the Pistons snapped an 18-game losing streak against Chicago to beat the Bulls 99-85. Knight, who played 41 bruising minutes in a physical game at Minnesota the previous night, hit 7 of 12 shots and dished out five assists to lead six Pistons in double figures – three of them coming off of their bench. The Pistons fell behind 18-7 in the game’s first seven minutes before turning momentum in large measure due to the bench.

BLUE COLLAR – Jonas Jerebko fell out of the rotation in late November and went weeks without getting a chance to work his way back into it. Once he did, it took him a while to find his stride. But he’s looking like the Jerebko who so endeared himself to Pistons fans and management as a rookie of late, coming up with another strong outing, scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds in 27 high-energy minutes. When the Pistons looked a half-step slow early after a draining loss at Minnesota 24 hours earlier, Jerebko helped turn momentum. They trailed by seven when he came on for Andre Drummond nine minutes into the game, but led by five when he came out late in the second quarter.

RED FLAG – It’s not a serious injury, but Jose Calderon’s temperamental right triceps flared up on him again and kept him out of the lineup for the second time in three games. Lawrence Frank said before the game they won’t keep yo-yoing him back and forth, but will wait until they’re satisfied the injury is fully healed before bringing him back. The disappointment rests in the missed opportunities for Calderon to play with the Andre Drummond-Greg Monroe frontcourt combination so central to their future – and, presumably, an important consideration for Calderon as he weighs his options in free agency.

In a season filled with too many near-misses and nights lamented for the lack of the one or two plays that weren’t made, the Pistons might not look back more fondly at any game than the 99-85 win over Chicago in Game 78.

It was made doubly satisfying for the way it obliterated the burden of the 18-game losing streak the Pistons dragged into the game at Chicago’s hands, symbolically washed away in the chest bump Andre Drummond and Jonas Jerebko shared when Drummond charged off the bench to meet Jerebko near mid-court after the Swede’s dunk put the Pistons up 14 with seven minutes to play and forced a Chicago timeout.

“We hadn’t beaten them since Andre was born,” Lawrence Frank grinned. “That’s a long time – 18 straight times. Not that we know the date – Dec. 23, 2008.”

There were plenty of grins to go around because the contributions came from the top of the roster to the bottom. Brandon Knight entered the weekend nursing a battery of injuries, then played 41 minutes in Saturday’s grinding loss at Minnesota. But he logged another 37 against Chicago as the Pistons got one guard back (Will Bynum, returning from a six-game injury absence) but saw another (Jose Calderon, who missed his second in three games with a right triceps strain) go on the injured list.

“We don’t have a shot at the playoffs this year, but that’s just me,” he said after scoring 20 points to lead six players in double figures. “I can’t really sit down and watch. If I can get on the court and play, give some type of positive boost to my team, I’ll do it. That’s just my competitive nature, whether it be foot, knee, all the stuff I’m trying to battle right now, nose. I’m just trying to play through it.”

Knight started slowly, scoring no points in the first quarter, as did the Pistons. They trailed 18-7 seven minutes into the game and looked a half-step slow. In the eight straight home losses, dating to before the All-Star break, those games have typically ruptured and ended in lopsided losses that left players groping for answers.

Not this time.

“From that point on, we started to get stops and getting out in transition and had a very, very good push attack,” Frank said. “It was a total team win. You can go up and down the line in terms of how everyone impacted the game in a positive way. It was a ‘one more’ type of night – one more effort, one more help, one more pass, one more push. We made a lot of winning plays and played with a lot of intensity.”

“It was a complete team effort,” said Greg Monroe, who marked up the score sheet with 11 points, seven boards and seven assists amid a game no Piston took more than 12 shots but four had at least 11. “After the first quarter, we kind of took control of the game. We used that energy and focus for the rest of the game.”

Without Calderon, necessitating the elevation of Rodney Stuckey to the starting lineup alongside Knight, the composition of Frank’s bench – now radically different than it was in the season’s first half – changed again, with Jonas Jerebko, Khris Middleton and Charlie Villanueva all leaving their signatures on the win.

Jerebko was especially influential as he finished with 17 points on 7 of 8 shooting and a season-high nine rebounds. He also battled in the post with Chicago’s Carlos Boozer, who’s had some memorable games against the Pistons dating to his days in a Utah uniform. Jerebko got his hands on loose balls, visited the second row of courtside seats, hit the floor to produce a change of possession and ran the floor, once finishing a fast break with a tough left-handed conversion after grabbing the rebound at the other end.

“It’s been way too long,” he said of experiencing his first win of his NBA career against Chicago. “This is my fourth year and not getting a win against the Bulls, this year losing with (Marco) Belinelli’s last-second layup (at Chicago in January). I think it’s eight points total in three losses. We were due for a win and it felt good to finally get it.”

“You could feel his intensity and energy on the floor,” Frank said of Jerebko, who played 27 minutes in large measure due to foul trouble that limited Andre Drummond, who managed 10 rebounds in 20 minutes. “That’s what he is. That’s a huge value. When you’re an effort, energy, hustle guy, you’ll fall into stuff just because you’re playing harder than your opponent.”

The Pistons have left The Palace a handful of nights over the season’s second half when they couldn’t make that claim, but the fight they’ve brought to the table over the past several games is allowing them the chance to go into the off-season with a positive vibe.

“As disappointing as things have been, all we can control is how we finish out,” Frank said. “I just want – we just want – to see us continue to compete and give ourselves a chance to win every single night and finish up on a positive note.”