But there were too many among them still groping to hit their stride after spending most of the season's first half injured or dealing with the after-effects, and on a night they managed their highest-scoring quarter of the season – 34 in the second – they struggled to score 18 in the fourth and lost by six.
The fits and starts are becoming rarer these days, though, evidenced most dramatically in the play of their two veterans. Tayshaun Prince got them off to a sizzling start and Rip Hamilton picked up the baton to start a third quarter that saw the Pistons stretch a 12-point halftime lead to 30 before a ragged fourth quarter pared the lead by more than half, resulting in a 101-89 victory and leaving the Pistons to wonder what this season might have been.
Or maybe not.
"You can't even think like that now," Hamilton said. "It's been a crazy year. You've got to go with the cards you were dealt sometimes. I just keep telling myself, keep fighting, keep fighting – it'll get better."
"It happens," Prince said. "It's one of those seasons. It's just unfortunate. But we're just trying to build on each game and try to make the best out of what we have."
The only damper on the night, besides the fact John Kuester had to reinsert his starters to hold off a wholesale collapse, was the harrowing déjà vu moment late in the third quarter, when Jonas Jerebko crumpled to the floor after twisting his right ankle when coming down on Beno Udrih's foot.
"We're not up a lot of times that big going into the fourth period," said Kuester, whose father John Sr., 89, died on Saturday. Kuester will finish out the road trip, then fly to his hometown of Richmond, Va., to attend the memorial service on Monday. "Give them credit. We were still taking similar shots we had been making, but we missed them and they were coming down and running to the basket and getting layups."
Though Jerebko needed help to limp off and was taken by Arnie Kander to the locker room, he quickly returned to the court and the initial reading was encouraging, though his status for Wednesday's game won't be known until he tests it prior to tipoff.
For those first three quarters, at least, it was about as precise a game as the Pistons have played this season, crisp offensively and stout defensively but for a five-minute span late in the first and early in the second quarters when Sacramento went on a 20-4 run to turn a 14-point deficit into a brief lead.
The Pistons got scoring across the board from the perimeter players they went into the season figuring to lean on heavily. But nobody was better than the two veterans who a week ago were fielding questions about the prospects of being sent away as the trade deadline loomed.
"We had good rhythm, just good rhythm on the perimeter," Prince said. "We did some good things offensively. Great floor game from Stuckey as far as finding different opportunities for guys on the floor. Just helped each other out on the defensive end, got some steals and were able to be in attack mode."
Hamilton scored 30 and has averaged 30.5 over his last four games. Prince tossed in 22, continuing the strong play that began for him in the week leading to the All-Star break.
"I'm just getting better balance on my ankle," Hamilton said. "My balance has been terrible coming off curls and missing free throws. The four or five days off I had during the All-Star break and doing extra work with Arnie makes me a little better coming off pin-downs and things like that."
Stuckey, as Prince noted, also played a strong game and Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva helped fuel the second-quarter rally that enabled the Pistons to reassert control of the game going into halftime.
"Tayshaun Prince had a great flow to his game, Rip started getting going in that third period – he was on fire," Kuester said. "Stuckey was getting all those very difficult loose balls and rebounds. You can underestimate certain guys statistically. He had seven or eight rebounds, seven or eight assists. And Ben (Gordon) was getting it going but he got in foul trouble."
In other words, it was pretty much the blueprint Joe Dumars had in mind when he put this team together last summer – a team that gives his coach plenty of scoring and lineup options that simply weren't available to Kuester for the bulk of the season's first 50 games.
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