Out with a Bang

Pistons end preseason on high with Smith’s buzzer-beating triple

TEAM COLORS

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

WHITE HOT – Josh Smith’s triple at the buzzer gave the Pistons a rousing 99-98 win in the preseason finale over Minnesota. J.J. Barea’s driving layup with 3.6 seconds put Minnesota ahead by two. Andre Drummond dominated the backboards with 20 rebounds, eight of them offensive. Smith had 20 points, while Will Bynum and Greg Monroe added 17 apiece for the Pistons. Bynum also had nine assists off the bench for the Pistons, who again played without guards Chauncey Billups, Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Jennings. The Pistons finished preseason at 4-4.

BLUE COLLAR – Jonas Jerebko has had a good week, and coupled with Charlie Villanueva’s setback with a back injury that has limited him to three minutes in the past two games, he’s taken a decided lead in the bench pecking order. His two triples shortly after entering the game in the first half were big, the second keying a 13-0 Pistons run that saw them take an eight-point lead. Jerebko finished with nine points, hitting all three of his triple tries, and two rebounds in 17 minutes.

RED FLAG – The Pistons missed 5 of 6 free throws in the final 1:03 of regulation with Greg Monroe and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope both missing twice and Josh Smith splitting the pair with 41 seconds left to tie the game at 96. Caldwell-Pope’s misses came with 18 seconds left after he was fouled near mid-court after securing a loose ball with the score still tied at 96. The Pistons shot just 19 of 34 from the line for the game.

The Pistons can’t be sure what they’ll look like with all hands on deck, but they’d settle for the whole merely equaling the sum of their parts until familiarity opens the door to even greater possibilities. Because they’ve got some pretty good parts.

Start with Andre Drummond, a place at least a few dozen other NBA franchises would love to start.

Pistons fans clamored for Drummond to get more playing time last season, even as he admitted that the pace of the NBA game often left his gasping. He’ll get all the minutes he can handle this season, which in Thursday’s preseason finale – won on a fortuitous bounce that saw Josh Smith’s 3-pointer hit the rim, bounce a few feet above it and then fall at the buzzer in a 99-98 decision over Minnesota – amounted to 38. He made them count, grabbing 20 rebounds to go with 11 points.

Smith and Greg Monroe, who join Drummond in a frontcourt that will have to be their strength until the Pistons get guards Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey back, combined for 37 points and 11 rebounds.

The frontcourt dominance might have been less complete if Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic had played, but the Pistons kept Minnesota in the game with a series of close-range misses early and errant free throws throughout the game, including five misses in the final minute alone. Drummond, Monroe and Smith all missed a pair of point-blank shots in the early going, or the Pistons could have taken double-digit control of the game before halftime.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” Smith said. “I missed a couple in and outs, Moose missed a couple in and outs. I’m glad it’s preseason. We can get it out of our system. We’re a confident team. Whenever the buckets aren’t falling, you’ve got to pick it up a little bit more on the defensive end and I thought we did a good job with that.”

“The positive is that we played a lot in the paint,” Maurice Cheeks said. “Our three guys down low, we had a lot of shots that could’ve been made and we didn’t. Over the course of the season, if we get those same shots, we’ll be more successful. But I liked our big guys in the paint. I liked it a lot. We put the ball down there a lot and tried to utilize those guys.”

Along the perimeter, where Chauncey Billups sat one out, the Pistons held their own, as they’ll have to do until the reinforcements arrive. Rookies Peyton Siva and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started, Siva solid with four assists, a steal and two turnovers in 22 minutes and Caldwell-Pope even better. In his best all-around game yet, the lottery pick scored 13 points on 6 of 10 shooting to go with six boards and three steals. He battled crafty veteran shooting guard Kevin Martin and earned his 35 minutes, his knifing quickness creating extra possessions for the Pistons and causing disruption to Minnesota’s shooters.

“Kentavious played a nice game,” Cheeks said. “He’s guarding a veteran in Kevin Martin. His defense had to be up to par in order for him to stay on the court. Offensively, I didn’t think he rushed a lot of shots like he had been. Him and Siva this preseason got some valuable minutes and they both have learned a lot. Tonight was another example of Kentavious learning to slow his game down offensively.”

“He played in a very good rhythm tonight, took his time, set his feet,” Monroe said. “He’s slowed down, relaxed, shot the ball really well. Tonight, he played with a very, very good rhythm.”

Will Bynum came to camp without a guaranteed role, but the Pistons will lean on him heavily in the early going if Jennings – who is scheduled to have his jaw wired until a week into the regular season – isn’t ready to go. He gave the Pistons more encouraging signs that he’ll hold the fort with 17 points and nine assists against three turnovers in 26 minutes.

And Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko played important roles as well. Singler’s spot in the rotation was assured early in camp. Jerebko’s might not yet be official, but he took another big step forward by knocking down three first-half 3-pointers and continuing to play smart, aggressive basketball. He and Singler combined for 19 points on just 12 shots.

Those perimeter contributions from many hands added up to enough, as it should on many nights when the big three up front carry the load as assertively as they did this time.

“Tonight was an indication of them being pretty good playing together,” Cheeks said. “This was one of the games they got better at playing together, feeding off each other. Josh was in the post a lot, Greg was in the post and then Andre still played around inside the paint and got offensive rebounds because of those two guys.”