Star Power

Old pros Nowitzki, Carter show their stuff in leading Dallas past Pistons


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

WHITE HOT – Future Hall of Famers Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter combined for 42 points to lead Dallas’ potent offense to a 113-102 win over the Pistons. Dallas took the lead for good late in the first quarter, pushing it to 10 points in the second and to 13 in the third but never able to pull away. The Pistons were within four twice in the fourth quarter but first Carter (18 points, 3 of 6 3-point shooting) and then Nowitzki (24 points) made momentum-killing 3-pointers. Josh Smith, who scored 24 points in the first half and his 11 of 13 shots to do it, finished with 32 to lead the Pistons. Smith’s previous best as a Piston was 31 points on Dec. 15 in an overtime loss to Portland. His career high is 38 points, which came for Atlanta against Milwaukee in November 2007.

BLUE COLLAR – Greg Monroe, who logged 40 minutes on Friday night and was playing a fourth game in five nights, played 40 minutes again and put up 17 points and 17 rebounds to go with two assists. The 17 rebounds matched Monroe’s season high, which came on Dec. 4 at Milwaukee. Monroe is now averaging 17.5 points and 12.3 rebounds over his last four games.

RED FLAG – Dallas came into the game 28th in rebounding in the NBA and the Pistons ranked eighth. But with Andre Drummond getting into foul trouble and being taken off the boards by Samuel Dalembert, limiting Drummond to just three rebounds, the Pistons had what figured to be an area of strength reversed on them. Dallas wound up with a 50-39 rebounding advantage and neutralized the Pistons in second-chance points.

When Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki entered the NBA as top-10 picks in the fall of 1998, Andre Drummond had just celebrated his fifth birthday. You want Saturday’s Pistons loss to Dallas in a nutshell, there it is.

Two certifiable Hall of Famers made big plays – none bigger than the dagger 3-pointers planted in the Pistons’ collective chest less than two minutes apart early in the fourth quarter – on a night one budding young star who might one day join them in Springfield, Mass., acted his age.

Nowitzki and Carter, both in their 16th NBA seasons, combined to score 42 points to power a Dallas offense that ranks with the league’s elite to 113 points and an 11-point win. The Mavs shot 49 percent and registered assists on 31 of their 44 baskets. A good scheme executed by smart players will dice up even hardened defenses a lot of nights and the Pistons, who’ve struggled on the defensive side of the ball all season, just couldn’t get enough stops to give their own flourishing offense a chance to establish the traction it needed to complete a comeback that kept firing and falling back.

“Big-time shots,” Rodney Stuckey said of Carter’s 27-footer with 10:09 to play in answer to Stuckey’s layup that pulled the Pistons within 90-86 and Nowitzki’s 28-footer with 8:59 to play in response to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s layup that again brought the Pistons within four at 93-89. “Vince has been around this league for a while, Dirk as well, and they’ve been in a lot of moments like that. That’s what they do.”

“It seemed like really the whole game, when we’d get a little run going, they’d either get one to the rim on us on pick and roll or had quite a few guys make threes,” John Loyer said. “Pretty high-level players that when they’re open can make shots.”

That highly functioning offense is Dallas’ bread and butter. If the Pistons were to win with the Mavs scoring with such efficiency, they’d have to thrive at what they do best: dominate the glass, win second-chance points decisively and limit the Mavs to one shot.

"All we can do is just give the best effort we have individually and collectively as a team and try and help each other out."

- Will Bynum on team defense
Full game quotes
That’s where Drummond comes in, the NBA leader in offensive rebounding by a wide margin. Just didn’t happen. Drummond played 20 minutes – he picked up a third foul three minutes into the second quarter and a fifth with seven minutes to play – and managed just three rebounds, only one offensive. Dallas – which came into the game ranked 28th in rebounding to Detroit’s eighth – beat the Pistons on the boards 50-39, the 16-9 edge in offensive boards accounting for most of the gap.

“We didn’t quite have the aggression to block out,” Loyer said. “We had inside position a few times and didn’t root the guy back and come up with the basketball. When you have a perimeter-shooting team, a lot of times the ball is going to bounce pretty long and that’s when you’ve got to have five guys cracking back to rebound it. Rebounding was a huge difference. With our team, with our size and our talent, we should be an excellent rebounding team.”

Greg Monroe grabbed 17 of his team’s boards and scored 17 points and Josh Smith scored 32, his season high, but the Pistons just didn’t get enough from too many others to make it feel like they were going to get over the hump. Brandon Jennings shot 1 of 7 to finish with two points and three assists and Stuckey was 2 of 9. The Mavericks, meanwhile, put six players in double figures and got 44 points off of their bench, and every time the Pistons made it a two- or three-possession game, somebody else made a play – Monta Ellis or Shawn Marion or Brandan Wright or Wayne Ellington, et al.

“They are a potent team,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of the Pistons. “I thought they were making a run in the third and we did a pretty good job of not letting them get too much momentum. When you let them get momentum and get in transition, they convert quick, they can hit threes, they throw lobs and then it turns into a circus.”

To Carlisle’s point, the Pistons were again very good in transition, becoming a hallmark of Loyer’s version of the Pistons. They scored 24 fast-break points, remarkable given the lack of chances Dallas provided by scoring with such frequency. Both the Stuckey and Caldwell-Pope layups that preceded the momentum-quelling triples from Carter and Nowitzki? Transition baskets off of Detroit stops. They just didn’t get enough of them.

“I was just trying to do my part,” said Carter, whose 18 points, six boards and five assists came in 30 minutes. “It’s the second part of the season, so it’s crunch time. That’s where you earn your money and I’m just trying to give our bench a lift and get us in the playoffs where we feel we should be.”

Those bombs-away triples do more than just put three points on the board, they deflate the spirits. Defend well and force a shot from two steps past the arc only to see it ruffle the nets and …

“It’s tough,” Will Bynum said. “Those guys have been doing that for a long time. They were definitely in the scouting report. We knew what was going on out there. We were well prepared. They just made some tough shots.”

The kind that long ago sealed their induction into the Hall of Fame.