Rose, Knight’s heroics reward Pistons hard work – and give a peek into their future
Kenneth St. George/NBAE
PHOENIX – The names likely will have changed by the time the Pistons come out on the other side of their rebuild, but a winning fourth quarter in Phoenix is what Dwane Casey has in mind for their future.
More specifically, fielding lineups with two capable pick-and-roll ballhandlers and two gifted scorers. On Friday, it was Derrick Rose – having a former MVP in the lineup usually makes things function more smoothly – and Brandon Knight.
Together, they scored 24 fourth-quarter points as the Pistons – a radically different team than they expected to be thanks to the early-season injury avalanche that set the rebuilding project in motion – snapped a seven-game losing streak against the likeliest opponent. Their 113-111 win was their seventh straight against Phoenix.
“I feel good for the guys,” Casey said afterward. “They’ve been working their behinds off. We’ve basically been having training camp the last few weeks with all the young guys coming in and the development is showing. I’ve been through this before. Tonight was a big step toward which way we want to go in the future.”
Two adept point guards surrounded by additional 3-point shooters and a mobile big man who can help create scoring chances in pick-and-roll settings via passing and screening. That’s Casey’s vision of a Pistons future.
Rose scored 31 to tie his season high, including two dazzling baskets in the final minute when he wound up with bigger defenders on him – DeAndre Ayton the first time, Cameron Johnson the second – and scored in the paint each time. He scored 13 in the fourth quarter on 6 of 8 shooting while Knight scored 11 of his 19 on 4 of 7 shooting, hitting half of his six 3-point shots in the quarter.
“It’s great,” Knight said of the luxury of playing with another gifted point guard. “We haven’t played together a whole lot, but it gives us a chance to get a break. We don’t have to try to make every play. We don’t have to make the winning play every time. You can get off of it and let somebody else create for you, which for both of us is easy. If I can spot up and he creates and I step into a jumper, a lot of energy saved for me. And I can do the same for him. It’s a blessing to be able to play with him.”
Rose and Knight each wound up with four assists, too. Phoenix was trying to take the ball out of Rose’s hands for much of the fourth quarter, but when he got the matchups he liked in the final minute and the Suns didn’t immediately double him Rose was focused on the rim.
“When I came off the first couple of times, I had Ayton on me late in the game,” Rose said. “I pump faked, passed it and got off the ball. Late in the shot clock like that (on the final two possessions) and with it being so clutch down the stretch, I had to take those shots. My teammates believed in me. They’re comfortable with me taking those shots.”
So is Casey, who manipulated his rotation in order to have both Rose and Knight on the floor at winning time.
“Multiple playmakers is what your roster has to have,” he said. “That’s why we had Brandon and Derrick out there a lot. I’ve always had success with multiple point guards in the game. It’s very difficult for today’s defense to guard. You have multiple pick and rolls, you have multiple ballhandlers, attackers. Derrick and Brandon, they took advantage of it.”
Rose and Knight’s late star turns overshadowed another in a long line of impressive showings for Christian Wood, who capped the best month of his NBA career with 19 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and a blocked shot in 35 minutes. Casey also rode rookie Donta Hall, playing his second game since signing a 10-day contract last week, for 13 late minutes, pulling him with a minute left only to go small with Wood at center and Tony Snell at power forward.
Casey cited two reasons for his faith in the 6-foot-9 rookie out of Alabama: Hall’s physicality and his ability and willingness to find open 3-point shooters in pick and rolls.
“He did a great job of something we’ve been preaching,” Casey said. “You’ve got to have it in today’s NBA kickout guys. Most of the time, today’s pick and roll is not for the ballhandler, is not for the roller. You’re trying to create momentum to get a three and get the defense to make a mistake. He did a great job of catching it in the paint, having balance and kicking out and finding. C-Wood had one, too.”
It all added up to a win that felt overdue for a team beset by adversity but fighting hard and staying in almost every game.
“That’s how the gods in this game work,” Rose said. “If you play hard, the gods reward you and tonight rewarded us with a win.”