Rolling Thunder

Pistons lose to another heavyweight, gird for 4-game road swing


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

WHITE HOT – The Pistons lost their second straight home game to another NBA title contender, this time Oklahoma City, as Kevin Durant sizzled with 35 points in a 119-110 Thunder win. With Andre Drummond (four points, three rebounds in 23 minutes) made passive by foul trouble, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith had to carry the Pistons. Monroe put up 20 points and 15 rebounds, while Smith – who fouled out midway through the fourth quarter – had 25 points and eight rebounds. A 15-2 run to end the third quarter gave Oklahoma City an eight-point lead. The Pistons came within four with nine minutes to play, but the Thunder went on a 7-0 run to restore a double-digits lead and weren’t seriously threatened after that.

BLUE COLLAR – Brandon Jennings will have better shooting nights than the 7 of 17 he posted in Friday’s loss, but he did enough else to keep the Pistons in the game, dishing out 11 assists and grabbing five rebounds while continuing to show his quick hands and nose for the ball with four more steals. Jennings finished with 22 points, hitting 4 of 10 from the 3-point line, including three four-quarter triples.

RED FLAG – One game after bringing Gigi Datome into the rotation to give the Pistons some 3-point shooting, Cheeks went with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to start the fourth quarter. But the Pistons again struggled from the arc, shooting 11 of 30, though that’s a little misleading. They were 5 of 21 through the first three quarters before firing up 10 in the fourth quarter when they went small and were in scramble mode. The Pistons were 7 of 38 in their last two home games from the arc.

The overtime loss at Memphis stung badly. A week later, it stings worse.

The Pistons played three NBA title contenders in the season’s first 10 games, which explains while they’ll lug a 2-3 record with them to the West Coast to open a four-game road trek Monday at Portland.

Two or three months from now, maybe it won’t much matter. But in the here and now, a young team robbed by injury of the preseason acclimation process sure could have used the psyche massage that a winning record and a signature road win over a playoff-tested team like the Grizzlies would have provided.

As in Tuesday’s loss to Indiana – which remains the NBA’s lone unbeaten team, now at 6-0 – Oklahoma City led the majority of Friday’s game but never really seized control. The Pistons were four down with nine minutes to play despite a foul-plagued, low-impact game from Andre Drummond (four points, three boards, 23 minutes) and another wayward 3-point shooting night.

But just as Indiana’s Paul George kept making plays to keep them at bay, so did OKC’s Kevin Durant (37 points on only 15 shots, but 17 of 19 free throws) in a 119-110 win.

“I love our fight, us not giving up,” Chauncey Billups said. “Our goal is to get on those guys’ level, play that kind of basketball. Those teams have been together quite some time and experience is the best teacher. So you’re going to take some lumps every now and then and lose some games you’re supposed to win against some good teams, because they’re just more experienced.”

“That’s three legitimate title contenders,” said Greg Monroe, who played a superb game at both ends with 20 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots. “We were right there in all those games, but they just made that extra push at some point in the second half to push them over the top. Once we get to that point where we have to force those runs – people always say that, ‘It’s the NBA, they’re going to make a run’ – but those good teams force those runs and we have to get to that point. I think we’re on the right track. It’s going to take more time, the more we play with each other.”

"When we talk about shooting, it’s part of the NBA. You’ve got to be ready. You’ve got to be committed to what you’re doing and you give yourself a chance."

- Maurice Cheeks on shooting
Full game quotes
The Pistons figured to have some growing pains even if Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey hadn’t missed all but the preseason opener, but the absence of Jennings in particular robbed them of the benefits they hoped to derive from October. So it counted as a silver lining Friday when Jennings appeared to find himself in a 35-minute stint that saw him finish with 22 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and four steals.

“In this league, rhythm is a big part of it,” Monroe said. “Him missing the whole preseason, he’s still getting into the rhythm that most of us got in during the preseason. The more we play, in a couple more games, he’ll be ready. Maybe even next game. Today, I think he showed what he can do and he looked very comfortable out there. Next game, I think you’ll finally see us gelling together a little bit more.”

“It’s an adjustment period,” Billups said. “Guys have to learn how to play with him and he’s going to have to learn how to play with everybody else. But in the meantime, it’s important for him to be aggressive and just do what he does.”

Jennings scored 11 points and dropped two assists in a 34-point Pistons fourth quarter that they hope might have gotten them out of their early-season 3-point funk. The Pistons were 6 of 10 from the arc in the fourth quarter after hitting 5 of 21 through three quarters, and that on top of 2 of 13 and 5 of 25 the past two games.

“Shooting’s part of the game,” Maurice Cheeks said. “Sometimes you’re going to make ’em, sometimes you don’t. But at some point, we’ve got to make ’em. You’ve got to keep working and shots will fall. We got looks. We’ve got to make open shots. Easier said than done, but you’ve got to make open shots.”

Cheeks kept tweaking his rotation, looking for a boost, shooting or otherwise. For the second straight game, he used Gigi Datome as the primary backup power forward, but Datome missed his only two 3-point tries. He went with Jonas Jerebko as the 10th man in the rotation when Oklahoma City – thanks to foul trouble to both Drummond and Josh Smith (25 points) – hurt the Pistons on the glass. And he went to rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to start the fourth quarter as the 11th man.

“Sometimes,” Cheeks said, “you’re just looking for a little something from somebody to come in and give you that spark.”

The Pistons have sent a lot of sparks flying over the season’s first five games, but in the three matchups with heavyweights Memphis, Indiana and Oklahoma City, they haven’t been able to get over the hump. They haven’t been able to fan those sparks into a conflagration. Now, ready or not, they hit the road.