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Pistons amass season-best 126 points to win 4th straight at Palace


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

WHITE HOT – The Pistons rode another huge offensive first half and gaudy individual numbers from multiple players to record their fourth straight home win, a 126-109 decision over Denver as they topped their previous season scoring high by 11 points. The Pistons, who scored 67 points in Friday’s first half, had 65 in the first two quarters against Denver but had just a four-point halftime lead. With Nuggets guard Ty Lawson unavailable in the second half with a back injury, the Pistons opened a 16-point lead in the third quarter, saw it cut to six midway through the fourth but pulled away down the stretch. Denver hit 4 of 4 triples in the game’s first three-plus minutes and took a 10-point lead and the Nuggets stayed in it by hitting 15 of 33 from the arc. Josh Smith nearly recorded a triple-double with 30 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, Brandon Jennings had his second straight brilliant game with 35 points and 12 assists and Andre Drummond finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds.

BLUE COLLAR – On the second night of a back-to-back set, Mo Cheeks went with a short bench. Chauncey Billups, still not playing on the back end, didn’t get off the bench, nor did Will Bynum. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played nine first-half minutes, Jonas Jerebko two. In the second half, Cheeks pared the rotation even further. The first substitution didn’t come until late in the third quarter when Rodney Stuckey entered. Caldwell-Pope entered early in the fourth quarter but left after just three minutes. The five starters plus Stuckey accounted for all but 15 minutes and every one of Detroit’s 126 points.

RED FLAG – The Pistons’ lack of big man depth without Josh Harrellson showed itself against Denver. When Greg Monroe picked up his third foul midway through the second quarter, Andre Drummond was the only player left with the experience and size to play center. After playing 40 minutes and grabbing a career-high 22 rebounds Friday night, Drummond logged 19 more minutes in Saturday’s first half. Josh Smith, who twisted an ankle and sat the last 10 minutes on Friday, had to play nearly 22 first-half minutes.

Maybe, just maybe, the Pistons are forming an identity. Perhaps, and only perhaps, The Palace is again becoming their fortress.

Their quest to make the playoffs was not only boosted by back-to-back weekend wins over Brooklyn and Denver but also by the way those games were won and where they were won.

The Pistons were 7-15 at home before beating Orlando and Philadelphia a week ago and that home record – and their inability to protect second-half leads – dragged them down and outside of the playoff field. Now they’re 11-15 at home and with their win Saturday, coupled with Charlotte’s loss to San Antonio, the Pistons are one-half game out of the playoff field and even with the Bobcats in the loss column.

Game on.

The similarities of Saturday’s 126-109 win over Denver, in which the Pistons scored their most points in regulation since a 136-120 win over the same Nuggets in March 2008, and Friday’s 111-95 win over Brooklyn were many.

The Pistons scored 67 points in Friday’s first half, 65 in Saturday’s. Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings flirted with triple-doubles Friday, Jennings coming up one assist shy. Smith came up two assists shy of a triple-double Saturday and Jennings became the first Piston since Isiah Thomas in 1988 to register 35 points and 12 assists. Andre Drummond had 16 points and 22 boards on Friday, 18 points and 15 boards on Saturday.

They led by 29 against Brooklyn, which came back behind a flurry of 3-pointers to pull within nine in the fourth quarter. They led by 17 against Denver, which came back behind a flurry of 3-pointers to pull within six in the fourth quarter.

A Rodney Stuckey steal and layup helped stem momentum Friday night, an Andre Drummond steal and layup did the trick Saturday night.

"We’re winning at home, everybody’s coming out, trying to see what we’re about and we’re putting a good show on and winning games."

- Andre Drummond on homecourt advantage
Full game quotes
To the extent two games that follow the same script to wrap up the season’s first 50 portend the forging of a team’s identity and the establishment of a home-court advantage, the Pistons will take a Sunday off with guarded optimism about what lies ahead in the final 32 games.

“I think it’s a process,” said Drummond, who added three blocked shots and two steals. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s not going to happen next month. But the more we play with each other, the more we’re going to figure each other out.”

“We’re winning basketball games at home,” said Smith, who finished with 30 points, 10 boards, eight assists, four steals and a blocked shot in nearly 46 minutes. “Early on, we struggled. It feels good to be able to get that monkey off our back and keep winning consistent games at home.”

As they did on Friday, the Pistons generated points off of turnovers and ran aggressively off of missed shots. In both games, they scored 28 fast-break points, 11 above their season average of 17.1, good enough for second in the NBA to Phoenix coming into Saturday’s play.

“We always try to play with pace,” Mo Cheeks said. “The way Brandon is playing right now, playing with pace like that, and our big guys running the floor, just trying to get some easy baskets. But the only way we can do that is to get some stops and tonight we got some stops.”

Brooklyn hit 12 triples against the Pistons after starting the game 1 of 15 from the arc. Denver sizzled from the start – the Nuggets drained four in less than four minutes to open up an early 10-point lead – and finished 15 of 33, the most 3-pointers the Pistons have allowed this season.

The Pistons overcame the perimeter assault by committing half as many turnovers as the Nuggets (20-10) and turning Denver miscues into 25 points. The Pistons, league leaders in points in the paint at nearly 52 per game, scored 66 in the paint against Denver.

Smith, Drummond and Greg Monroe (14 points, six rebounds) all inflicted damage around the rim. The Nuggets played a big lineup after halftime, in part to match up with the Pistons but also necessitated by a late first-half injury, later diagnosed as a fractured rib, that sidelined Ty Lawson. With Jennings at the top of his game, it didn’t help Denver’s shot at a comeback to have Lawson sidelined.

“You see the numbers he’s putting up,” Drummond said of Jennings, who over the weekend scored 61 points and dished 21 assists while making 11 of 18 from the 3-point line. “Not only is he putting up numbers, but he’s getting everybody else involved, too. He’s playing great.”

“All we’ve got to do is keep having him play consistently and keep being the point guard we need him to be, especially being the facilitator and keep doing things that he’s capable of doing on a night-to-night basis,” Smith said.

You could say much the same for the Pistons. Keep pounding the ball inside. Keep forcing turnovers and stay focused on exploiting transition scoring chances under all circumstances. Keep going to the strengths of the players they expected all along to carry them. Keep winning home games. And then see where the season’s final 32 games will carry them.