Monroe’s monster double-double leads Pistons to 4th straight win
When Tom Gores spoke before the Pistons’ home finale about his excitement for the future, he wasn’t solely referencing the cache of cap space the franchise will take into the July free agency period. He also had in mind the young nucleus built in the first two years of his stewardship.
A few hours later, he might have been feeling even more optimistic about that young nucleus.
Even with Andre Drummond playing on a testy right ankle, the one he sprained three nights earlier and made him a game-time decision for Monday’s home finale, the Pistons gave their owner a glimpse of what might be with a 109-101 win over Philadelphia.
Greg Monroe racked up his 36th double-double by the first minute of the second half and finished with 27 points and 16 rebounds. Brandon Knight’s bounce fueled a 33-21 third-quarter advantage that put the Pistons squarely in control. Rookie small forwards Kyle Singler (16 points) and Khris Middleton combined for a high-efficiency job sharing role, contributing 26 points and seven rebounds on 10 of 18 shooting.
Drummond didn’t dent the stat sheet with quite the same authority as he’s done frequently since returning from injury nine games ago, accumulating two quick fouls that likely further inhibited his aggressiveness on top of the ankle injury. But he flashed his athleticism and havoc-inducing defensive presence often enough in the second half, when he grabbed five rebounds and added two steals in addition to altering or dissuading several shots.
It wasn’t quite enough to take the sting out of a season for which the Pistons had loftier goals than the possibility of a five-game winning streak to bring it to a close – they’ll take a four-gamer into Wednesday’s finale at Brooklyn – but it gives them a little clearer picture of what they can become as a transformational off-season looms.
“You want the fans to leave with a good view of you,” Monroe said. “We did a good job of playing well tonight. … We were in position to win some games and we let it slip away. That’s why we’re probably not in a position we wanted to be in. We definitely made some strides last season. Right now, we’ll have to take this momentum into next season.”
The Drummond-Monroe frontcourt tandem is at the heart of their future, and Monroe’s finishing kick as a power forward has been most encouraging. Against Philly, he was paired against the athletic Thaddeus Young, over whom Young held a 3-inch height advantage.
Young scored six quick points to match Monroe’s hot start, but Monroe wound up winning the matchup by unanimous decision.
“It doesn’t matter where Greg is on the court,” said Will Bynum, who gave the Pistons 22 points and six assists off the bench. “Greg plays the game the right way. He has a high basketball IQ, shares the basketball. No matter where you put him, he’s going to be effective. As long as he’s playing with a high motor like he did tonight, he’s going to be fine. If anybody’s smaller on Greg, he’s going to take advantage of it in the post, but he’s so unselfish he keeps everybody involved. That’s a great sign.”
“They played him straight up,” Lawrence Frank said. “If this was a different game, they probably would game plan it a little bit different. You give credit to Greg. It always comes down to that when there’s going to be a smaller guy with athleticism, then it’s Greg’s size and who can win the game of chicken.”
With the Monroe-Drummond foundation to anchor the frontcourt, the Pistons are likely to use the cap space Gores addressed in a brief pregame media interview to bolster their perimeter. That means some players likely played their last home game as Pistons on Monday.
“Any time there’s a last anything, so there’s a last home, I think everyone has to appreciate the moment,” Frank said. “As a team, collectively, this will be the last time we play on this floor. That’s a guarantee. You treasure it and appreciate it.”