Pistons Ride Defense

Starters dominant as Pistons roll past Israeli foe in preseason opener

TEAM COLORS

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

WHITE HOT – There are four near-certain starters for the Pistons: Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. They did nothing to put their status in doubt in Tuesday’s preseason opener, a 91-69 win over reigning Israeli Super League champion Maccabi Haifa. The four scored between Smith’s 12 points and Drummond’s 17, all had at least two assists and combined for 14 and all made at least half of their shots. In addition, they were on the floor for most of a first quarter in which Haifa committed 14 turnovers. The Pistons held their visitors to 31 percent shooting through three quarters in building an 80-40 lead before Cheeks turned the game over to his bench.

BLUE COLLAR – Kyle Singler already has made an impression on Maurice Cheeks for his reliability. Singler is in the mix for minutes behind Josh Smith at small forward and with Gigi Datome (hamstring) not available, Singler made a strong bid to solidify his position in the rotation in the opener. He scored 11 points in 16 minutes and was typically active at both ends, keeping the ball moving on offense and sticking his nose into the fray defensively.

RED FLAG – The Pistons have to figure out their rotation, but one thing they will rely on is the firepower and shooting versatility they have coming off their bench in players like Charlie Villanueva and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But the bench struggled to score in the opener as they were a combined 1 of 16 from the 3-point line and 12 of 48 overall. Caldwell-Pope finished 1 of 11, but he did grab seven rebounds, ran the floor relentlessly and was active defensively. Two players who figure in the bench’s possibilities, Will Bynum and Jonas Jerebko, did not play.

It was three minutes into the third quarter and a good hour after the Pistons had safely tucked away their first preseason win. Nursing a 29-point lead, they dug in for another adventurous Maccabi Haifi possession, which ended in a turnover 14 times in the first quarter alone.

Two ball reversals and three options blunted, Haifa found Brian Randle along the baseline about 20 feet from the basket. Josh Smith, in precisely the spot required, sprinted out from the block to challenge the shot, which fell meekly into the hands of a teammate.

If the Pistons are going to play defense with that much effort and that much commitment to their assignments, they can get away with at least a few of the offensive inefficiences and perceived weaknesses some expect after their summer roster makeover.

“We’ve got to be long and athletic and that’s what we were doing,” said Smith, headliner along with Brandon Jennings of the eight new players Joe Dumars added to the roster since last season. “We were keeping those guys out of our paint, affecting shots if they got in there and when they did, we were trying to limit them to one shot and get out and run.”

The Pistons forced 26 Haifa turnovers and limited them through three quarters to 31 percent shooting and 40 points, after which they led by 40.

“Guys were moving around, guys were rotating, guys were talking,” Greg Monroe said. “We did a good job. It’s the first game; we’re not perfect, but I think we played well tonight.”

“I liked their commitment on the defensive end, the way we were early on,” Maurice Cheeks said. “We didn’t sustain it, and maybe it was tough with such a lopsided score, but early on it was good.”

The offense wasn’t bad, either, at least with the first unit on the floor. Chauncey Billups joined the four starters who came into camp as prohibitive favorites at their positions – Smith, Monroe, Jennings and Andre Drummond. All scored between 12 and 17 points, all had at least two assists and all made at least half of their shots.

Smith had an efficient 12 points, hitting 3 of 4 3-pointers, to go with six boards, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Monroe had 13 points on 4 of 5 shooting and 5 of 6 free throws plus six boards, four assists and three steals. Drummond had 17 points, nine boards, three blocks and two assists, while Jennings had 15 points, five steals and three assists.

“We’ve just got to keep being unselfish, keep playing within the offense and taking the right shots,” Smith said. “Moose did a great job early getting us established in the low post and Drummond was setting some pick and rolls and rolled real hard, opened up that defense and created some open looks for everybody on the perimeter. That’s how we’ve got to keep playing. As soon as they missed shots, we were out running the floor, getting easy buckets and that’s how we want to play this year.”

Billups’ only points came on two free throws. He played the least of the starters (20 minutes) and missed his four shots, but he got things rolling with a lob pass to Smith for a dunk 15 seconds into the game. Rodney Stuckey and Jennings both later hit Drummond for lob dunks. The Pistons finished with 21 assists on 32 baskets.

“That’s something that’s going to happen,” Monroe said. “The ball’s going to get moved. Everybody did a good job of moving the ball and taking the right shots.”

Peyton Siva (calf) and Gigi Datome (hamstring) were in uniform but did not play. Will Bynum suffered a minor hip injury in Monday’s practice, he said, and that’s why he didn’t play. Cheeks said he planned to hold out Jonas Jerebko, but he will play Thursday against Miami and Charlie Villanueva, who had 11 points and seven boards in 21 minutes, probably will sit that one out.