Deer Season

21-0 run settles things fast as balanced Pistons swarm Bucks for 2nd straight


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

WHITE HOT – It was their third game in four nights and the Pistons were playing a struggling team – Milwaukee dragged an eight-game losing streak to The Palace – so the environment was ripe for a letdown. But the Pistons sucked the suspense out of Monday’s game with a 21-0 run in the first quarter and led by 34 on their way to a 113-94 win. The Pistons had seven players in double figures before the third quarter ended. They had six players with at least two assists and eight with at least a steal in the first half alone. Rodney Stuckey scored 17 off the bench to lead them in scoring for a second straight game. The Pistons made a season-high 12 3-point shots, getting triples from six players.

BLUE COLLAR – Maurice Cheeks has been bold in his experimentation with lineup combinations and the second unit has remained in flux. He might have come a step closer to semi-permanence, though, with the return of Will Bynum and a strong performance from Charlie Villanueva, a combination that clicked well last year with Andre Drummond, who is almost always on with the bench to start the second and fourth quarters. Villanueva hit his first four shots, including two triples, in a 10-point second quarter and finishing with 12. Stuckey remains the anchor of the second unit along with Kyle Singler, who … keep reading.

RED FLAG – You have to search the box score with a microscope to find much to quibble about on a night the Pistons had seven players in double figures before the third quarter was out and they led by 20 points before the first quarter was over. Kyle Singler played just 2:25 of the first quarter and didn’t return. He wore black sports glasses, instead of his usual contact lenses, after developing an allergy to the lenses. He won’t be able to wear contact lenses for a week.

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The Pistons have many hurdles yet to clear before they’ll declare themselves ready for the next phase in an NBA team’s evolution, but count Monday’s 113-94 domination of Milwaukee as a positive.

One mark of mature teams is taking care of business at home against visitors with fragile psyches. The Bucks came to The Palace fresh off a 24-point home loss – their eighth straight defeat – at the hands of Charlotte, during which their starting five combined for 18 points. That prompted Bucks first-year coach Larry Drew to plug in two new starters – coincidentally, ex-Pistons Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton – in a move he admitted was more groping for a spark than anything.

Middleton helped the Pistons stay close for six minutes. But at 17-14, the Pistons went on a 21-0 run that saw them stone Milwaukee on 11 straight possessions and force six of the Bucks’ 15 first-half turnovers that they converted into 21 points. The Pistons were both selfless when they had the ball and selfish when they didn’t. They finished the first half with six players with at least two assists and eight players with at least one steal.

The balance extended to their scoring: seven Pistons reached double figures before the third quarter was out and all seven finished the game attempting between nine and 11 shots. It won’t be quite like that every night, of course, but it speaks to the formula likely to lead this team to its greatest potential. They don’t have a dominant scorer, but they have several capable of leading them on a given night.

“Our defense was really stepping up tonight,” said Brandon Jennings, who flourished against his former team with 15 points and 13 assists. “When your defense is stepping up, everybody can get shots. We were able to get a lot of fast breaks early and we just kept it going.”

"It feels good just to be able to get a home win. Hopefully we can keep it going now that we have a home stand with two more games."

- Brandon Jennings on the win
Full game quotes
Jennings ignited the 21-point run, hitting three straight 3-point shots in a span of 1:19 and hitting Greg Monroe for a layup. Two days after telling reporters he lacked confidence in his shot, Jennings hit 4 of 6 from the arc, with one of his misses an end-of-quarter heave.

“It just felt great to see a shot go in the basket,” he said. “I’ve been working very hard. I worked a little bit after shootaround today, trying to get some extra shots, so I’m putting in the work and hopefully it keeps paying off.”

Rodney Stuckey again led the Pistons in scoring and has become their leading scorer for the season by a nose over Jennings, Monroe and Josh Smith, though all are jammed up within less than two points of each other with Andre Drummond lurking close behind.

“Stuckey’s been the primary offensive guy thus far,” Maurice Cheeks said. “When Jennings is shooting the ball and Greg down low, getting some paint points like he has been getting, it can be anybody getting more shots. It can be anybody at any given time.”

On the heels of their 65-point second half that saw them come back from a seven-point deficit to win going away at Brooklyn on Sunday, the Pistons put up another 65-point half to start Monday’s game. Just as defense helped fuel Sunday’s outburst, so it did again on Monday. The Pistons had seven steals in the first quarter with all five starters getting at least one.

“I thought our activity on the defensive end was really good,” Cheeks said. “That was one of the reasons we got into the flow we got. And we made shots. But our early activity allowed us to play the way we played in the first quarter.”

Will Bynum, back in the lineup after missing five games with a hamstring strain, steered the conversation toward defense, as well, when I asked if he thought the two 65-point halves meant the Pistons might be turning the corner.

“That’s not the end of the court where we want to turn the corner,” he said. “We want to turn the corner on the defensive end of the court, because that’s what’s going to take us as far as we can go.”

The Pistons had their most potent game from the 3-point arc to go with the transition opportunities their defense created, hitting 12 of 29, numbers hurt by a 2 of 10 fourth quarter with the game long since decided. Especially encouraging for the Pistons was getting some pop from their backcourt. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was 7 of 33 overall over his last three games and 9 of 36 for the season from the arc, hit 2 of 5 triples, 5 of 9 overall. Six Pistons hit a triple, including two by Charlie Villanueva, who appears to be solidifying a spot on a second unit that has been much in flux.

The win gave the Pistons their first winning streak of the season, if a modest two-gamer. With Chicago, minus Derrick Rose, and the Los Angeles Lakers, who’ve yet to see Kobe Bryant this season, playing sandwich games around Thanksgiving later this week at The Palace, the Pistons know they have an opportunity to really establish momentum.

“We can’t get satisfied with just two wins,” Jennings said. “Right now the East is real shaky. We can win the next two games and we can be the third team in the East, the way it’s shaking out right now. That’s where my head is at and I hope that’s where everybody else’s head is at. We’ve got to keep it going. We’ve just got to keep pushing.”