Roaring Back

Pistons spot 76ers 16-point early lead, but win to snap 6-game streak


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

WHITE HOT – The Pistons gave up 17 points in the first four minutes and trailed by 16 in the first quarter before catching Philadelphia in the third quarter and snapping their six-game losing streak with a 114-104 road win. Mo Cheeks pared his rotation to seven players after halftime – Rodney Stuckey, bothered by a sore right shoulder, played just three first-half minutes – and all seven scored in double figures. The starting frontcourt of Josh Smith (22 points, 13 re bounds), Greg Monroe (15, 10) and Andre Drummond (11, 12) all recorded double-doubles. Smith was especially good, adding five blocked shots, seven assists and four steals. Smith particularly stood out for the Pistons, especially in the first half when he put up 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots.

BLUE COLLAR – When the Pistons trailed 19-4 less than four minutes into the game, Mo Cheeks was forced into an earlier substitution pattern. His first move was to bring Kyle Singler off the bench and Singler was as responsible as anyone for turning momentum. He finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists and made a handful of plays the box score won’t reflect that either led to Pistons points or thwarted Philadelphia possessions.

RED FLAG – The Pistons dug their first-quarter hole by turning the ball over nine times, which Philadelphia converted into 14 points. Then the Pistons turned it over only four times in the middle two quarters. But when they could have blown the game open early in the fourth quarter, turnovers again haunted them. They committed four in just the first three minutes at a time they were scoring with relative ease. Those turnovers allowed the 76ers to stay on their heels, though they committed only one over the last nine minutes. Philadelphia wound up scoring 21 points off of 18 Pistons turnovers.

New strategy. The Pistons might not have figured out a way to put a 48-minute game together yet, but Friday night they got their worst basketball out of them early and then knew exactly what they were looking at. Down 16 points after a thoroughly dysfunctional opening six minutes – outscored by an average of 15 points in the first three third quarters of the new year – the Pistons used a most unlikely formula to snap a six-game losing streak and win their first game of 2014.

“We don’t want to be in that predicament, but we stuck in there, kept fighting and – opposite of how we’ve been losing – we actually won a game like that,” Greg Monroe said after the 114-104 win at Philadelphia. “Took control in the third quarter and kind of kept control in the second half.”

The 76ers made their first seven shots and nine of their first 10, including four 3-pointers, and they scored a staggering 38 first-half points in the paint, a testament to how porous the Pistons’ perimeter defense was in the early going.

Mo Cheeks called his first timeout barely two minutes into the game, by which time Philly already led by double digits. Two minutes later, he was already going to his bench for answers. He found two in Kyle Singler and Will Bynum, both of whom came up two rebounds shy of a double-double.

Singler was especially critical in reversing momentum, throwing his body around as soon as he hit the court.

“Big,” said Josh Smith of Singler’s impact. “Him, Will Bynum, those guys came off the bench and gave us a spark. Whenever they can give us positive energy and minutes, that makes us that much better.”

“His impact was just energy,” Cheeks said. “Defensive rebounding, offensive rebounding, cutting to the rim, and I think other guys fed off of it. Will came in and he brought energy into the game and Josh had energy at the start. Those three guys, energy wise, it was there.”

"Well, we got down big and we were able to fight back, and we just continued fighting from there."

- Maurice Cheeks on the win
Full game quotes
Singler finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, a steal and a blocked shot. But that bit of stat-stuffing diversity paled to the line score Smith registered: 22 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, five blocked shots and four steals, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who did it twice, and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players in NBA history to reach those benchmarks.

“I was frustrated because of the fact we were on a six-game losing streak and it was kind of disheartening to see us not be able to come out with the kind of desperate energy we needed to get off this skid,” said Smith, who added that when the Pistons found themselves down 16 points midway through the first quarter – by which time Philadelphia was on pace to break 200 points – his overriding thought was, “just not to give up. Be able to try to generate as much energy as possible so we can try to give ourselves an opportunity to get back in the game.”

Cheeks shortened his rotation to just seven players after halftime, using only Singler and Bynum after first-half cameos for Rodney Stuckey and Chauncey Billups. Because the 76ers play small so often, Cheeks rarely used all three of Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond. Yet all three recorded double-doubles and the Pistons finished with a whopping plus-20 on the backboards (62-42), grabbing nearly as many offensive rebounds (25) as the 76ers had defensive rebounds (29), a pretty good indicator of the willpower the Pistons invested in the game after those sluggish opening minutes.

“We got down big and we were able to fight back,” Cheeks said. “We just continued fighting from there. I thought the Sixers just jumped out on us quick because we weren’t into the game. When a team comes out in the first few minutes and they get layup after layup, that means you’re not in the game.”

Nobody turned their game around more dramatically after halftime than Brandon Jennings, who was limited to 10 first-half minutes and contributed little – one free throw, one assist. But he put up 18 points and five assists after halftime and knocked down 4 of 5 from the 3-point line, including back-to-back triples in the third quarter to put the Pistons ahead.

All seven Pistons who played in the second half finished in double figures, who got a half-dozen blocked shots from Drummond in addition to Smith’s five. Six Pistons finished with seven rebounds or more – again, a number that reflects the collective furor with which they played after enduring an embarrassing first six minutes.

Whether they can carry over that type of assertive, confident play will determine where their season goes from here. Will the comeback from 16 down to snap a six-game losing streak serve as a springboard for the second half of their season – and, yeah, the season is only four games from the midway point already and the forgiving nature of the Eastern Conference means the Pistons remain the thick of playoff contention even with a 15-22 record.

“Hopefully, this is a stepping stone for us to get ourselves going,” Cheeks said. “We needed it.”

“We had to get one and we got one,” Monroe said. “Now we have to duplicate it.”