Caught Short

Pistons fall at Denver after Smith (ejection) joins Drummond on bench


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

WHITE HOT – Aaron Brooks, subbing for leading scorer Ty Lawson, scored 27 and dished out a career-high 17 assists to lead Denver to a 118-109 win over the Pistons, handing them their 11th straight road loss. Backcourt partner Randy Foye added 22 as all five Denver starters scored in double figures. Brooks and Foye combined to score 34 in the second half, when Denver outscored the Pistons 64-48. The Pistons led most of the first half and by 11 points early in the third quarter, but Denver outscored them 10-2 to close the third quarter with a one-point lead. Greg Monroe led the Pistons with 22 points. Rodney Stuckey added 18.

BLUE COLLAR – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came off the bench less than three minutes into the game when Kyle Singler picked up two quick fouls. He played so well that John Loyer didn’t take him out until three minutes remained in the half. In that time, he grabbed nine rebounds – two better than his career high – and scored seven points. The rookie finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. His quickness and doggedness gave Denver problems, especially in chasing down missed shots on the offensive end. Caldwell-Pope also finished with two steals and an assist.

RED FLAG – With the Pistons already missing Andre Drummond with a neck injury, they couldn’t afford to lose another front-line frontcourt player. But that’s what happened midway through the third quarter when the Pistons, leading 72-67, lost Josh Smith. Referee Nick Buchert called a double technical on Smith and Kenneth Faried as they jostled and jawed at each other while running downcourt following a Faried score in the post over Smith. Smith contested Buchert’s call, extending his arms and continuing to talk to him, when Buchert whistled Smith for a second technical and an automatic ejection.

DENVER – When the Pistons beat Denver soundly in early February, the game turned when Ty Lawson went out early and the Nuggets had no one to replace him, having banished veteran Andre Miller after clashing with coach Brian Shaw. They addressed their point guard depth at the trade deadline, picking up Aaron Brooks.

That trade cost the Pistons a game Wednesday night, a loss they could ill afford with their playoff hopes fading by the day and three more games awaiting them on their Western road swing.

Brooks finished with 27 points and a career-high 17 assists for Denver, 17 points and 11 assists in the second half alone when the Nuggets erased an 11-point deficit.

“He was tough tonight,” said Will Bynum, something of an authority on explosive quarters or halves from backup point guards. “Especially on the pick and roll. You get picked, he’s coming downhill. It’s a tough battle, but when given the opportunity he’s played great in this league. Everybody knows he’s a great player. There’s pretty much no difference between him and Ty Lawson.”

Brooks and backcourt partner Randy Foye teamed for 34 points after halftime, Brooks penetrating and Foye bombing away from the perimeter. Twelve of Foye’s points came in the third quarter when Denver outscored the Pistons 31-23.

Something else happened in the third quarter, though, and none of that other stuff might have mattered if Josh Smith and Kenneth Faried hadn’t been engaging in some old-fashioned smack talk that led Nick Buchert to nail both with technical fouls and then Smith a second T for complaining about the first.

“It was just some friendly trash talk, but I guess he misinterpreted it,” Greg Monroe said. “Those guys were just competing, just talking a little bit. It wasn’t anything malicious or anything like that.”

Buchert, according to Denver assistant coach Melvin Hunt, had recently warned both teams he wasn’t going to listen to any more sass. So when Smith put his arms out, as if to say, “Hey, we were just doing what players do – no harm,” Buchert apparently wasn’t in any mood to appreciate the subtleties.

In any case, what was a five-point Pistons lead at the time became a one-point Denver lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Pistons tied the game at 87 on a Charlie Villanueva triple, but never again led.

“You never want to lose one of your better players,” John Loyer said. “It was a blow to us.”

“That was a slight momentum changer,” Monroe said. “Then losing him for the rest of the game, obviously puts us at a disadvantage at any point, in any game.”

The Pistons, already down Andre Drummond after he injured his neck in Saturday’s loss to Indiana, really had to mix and match at that point. Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva gave them solid minutes and the Pistons only wound up getting outrebounded by three, but losing Smith left its mark.

“When you lose one of your players, it’s tough,” Bynum said. “But we’re pros, so guys have to step up.”

One who did, especially in the first half: rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Kyle Singler began the game with two quick fouls – and ended it with a jammed thumb that could prove troublesome for Friday’s game at Phoenix – and Caldwell-Pope came on for 18 consecutive minutes. By halftime, he’d already exceeded his previous career best in rebounds and finished with nine points, 10 boards and two steals.

“Ken was very good,” Loyer said. “In the first half in particular, he was active, guarded, tracked down some loose balls.”

Denver came into the game on a roll, winning at Miami last week and snapping the 11-game winning streak of the Los Angeles Clippers at home on Monday. But they sent Lawson, their leading scorer and offensive lynchpin, home from shootaround with a sinus infection and scratched him just before tipoff. Second-leading scorer Wilson Chandler also was out with a hip injury.

The Pistons had their shot, even without Drummond. Maybe even without Smith. But not without doing a better job containing Brooks and Foye.

“Our pursuit on the pick and roll wasn’t as good as it needed to be,” Loyer said. “WE kind of dare-shot a few guys. When you sit there and watch guys marking it and shooting it and feeling pretty good – I think they had five threes in the third quarter – you can’t close out short. You’ve got to rush them and get up into them and we just kind of watched a few guys.”