On a Roll

Pistons win 3rd straight as second unit sparks second-quarter turnaround

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – The Pistons sizzled from the 3-point line, making 11 of their first 13 attempts, and pulled away from Charlotte in the second half to record their third straight win, 111-91. Charlotte shot 65 percent in the first quarter but the Pistons turned the game around in the second quarter with a second unit consisting of Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva, Khris Middleton, Will Bynum and Kim English. Jerebko scored 17 first-half points as the Pistons outscored Charlotte 36-23 in the second quarter, when they shot 67 percent and hit 5 of 7 triples. Jerebko finished with 21 and Brandon Knight with 19 to lead six Pistons in double figures. The Bobcats shot just 38 percent over the final three quarters. The Pistons survived a first-half onslaught from Kemba Walker, who scored the final 18 Bobcats points in the second quarter and put up 24 of his 28 by halftime, hitting his first four shots from the 3-point arc.

BLUE COLLAR – Point guards Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum combined to make just 2 of their first 12 shots before Bynum heated up in the fourth quarter, but they were instrumental in the Pistons having one of their best scoring nights of the season. Stuckey recorded assists on five of his team’s first six baskets to set the tone for the game as the Pistons racked up 31 assists on 43 baskets. Stuckey finished with nine assists in 26 minutes and Bynum with 10 assists in 28 minutes.

RED FLAG – With the Pistons leading by 16 points and under five minutes to play, the game seemingly in hand, Andre Drummond rolled his right ankle and sent a scare through the Pistons. He eventually walked off, but gingerly and wincing with every step. Expect the Pistons to exercise all possible caution with the injury with the season down to its final two games.

Charlotte stumbled to the league’s worst season ever a year ago by winning percentage, going 7-59 and praying with every loss for the payoff that never came. They wanted Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, as did all teams that landed in the lottery. But the Bobcats came up with the No. 2 pick instead. They could have taken Andre Drummond.

And that possibility could well haunt the franchise for years. Drummond gave the Bobcats a glimpse into what might have been on Friday, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds, just as he likely turned Cleveland wistful two nights earlier with a 29-point, 11-rebound outing for passing on him with the No. 4 pick.

“He puts a presence on the offensive boards,” Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap said before Friday’s 113-93 Pistons win, their third straight. “It’s like there’s a piece of meat on the tip of the rim and he’s going after that sucker like a hound dog that hasn’t been fed for seven days. Defensively, he’s just a good athlete who covers a lot of mistakes at the rim and he’s willing to leave his man to block shots, take charges. I think he’s gritty.”

Drummond’s numbers might have been better, but he left the game just 2:40 after returning in the fourth quarter when he stepped on Bismack Biyombo’s foot and rolled his right ankle. He said X-rays revealed nothing more serious than a sprain and felt he’d be ready for the season’s final two games, Monday vs. Philadelphia at The Palace and Wednesday’s finale at Brooklyn. The team called him day to day.

He was one of six Pistons who finished in double figures, led by Jonas Jerebko’s 21 points, 17 of them coming in the second quarter when he led a backup unit that changed the tenor of the game. Charlotte shot 65 percent in the first quarter and led by 10 when ex-Piston Ben Gordon opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer.

But Will Bynum orchestrated a sizzling offensive attack that put up 20 points in less than six minutes. The Pistons hit 5 of 7 triples in the second quarter, including two apiece from Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva, and outscored Charlotte 36-23. From the first quarter on, Charlotte dipped to 38 percent shooting and 63 points.

“The second unit did a great job from an energy standpoint, had great ball movement, changed the game,” Lawrence Frank said. “The third quarter, our starting group did a very good job of delivering the first blow and doing a much better job. We had some unbelievable ball-movement possessions, a very willing passing team tonight.”

Bynum finished with 10 and Rodney Stuckey with nine of the 31 assists the Pistons amassed on 43 baskets. Brandon Knight scored 19 points on just nine shot attempts, hitting all three of his triples, and Bynum scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.

“Distribute the basketball, get out in transition, get some baskets,” Bynum said he was thinking as he took the floor after watching Charlotte dent the Pistons for 30 first-quarter points. “Defensively, we needed to get stops. We tried to do that in the second quarter.”

Bynum led a second unit that included Drummond to its best moments in December and early January, but the makeup of that unit has been changed, first by the late-January trade that shipped Austin Daye out and later by the move of Drummond to the starting lineup and the loss of Jason Maxiell to injury. Rookie Khris Middleton is closing with a rush, too, but Jerebko’s strong play over the past few weeks has been especially encouraging.

“He’s in a real good rhythm,” Frank said. “He’s playing; he’s taking advantage of it. He’s strung together several good games, which is a big positive. Especially when you’re a young player, the word ‘role’ sometimes can be a curse word. ‘What?’ When you’re a young player, you want to do more and more. Not that you’re not capable of doing more. It comes down to what’s in the best interests of the team, whether it’s Jonas or anyone else.”

“He’s comfortable,” said Bynum, who assisted on two of Jerebko’s second-quarter baskets. “He knows he’s getting minutes. The opportunity is there and he’s being aggressive.”

A strong start won’t erase the memory of the doldrums the Pistons experienced for roughly one-quarter of a season following the All-Star break – and roughly coinciding, not likely coincidentally, with Drummond’s 22-game injury absence – but it will serve to send the team into the off-season on a wave of momentum.

“We’re starting to play with some poise,” Drummond said. “That’s a good sign for next year. We’re just using this as a stepping stone. We’re not going to play in the playoffs, so we’re just going to continue to get better and work as a team to get better for next season.”

“We have eight quarters of basketball left and we want to try to win as many as we could,” Frank said. “We won three of the four tonight. Let’s focus on finishing the season on a positive note. We’ve gotten good play from different guys. We’ve been playing good basketball these last six games and we want to follow through with it.”