The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue
BLUE COLLAR – Greg Monroe struggled to score – he was 2 of 6 from the field, 1 of 4 from the line – but the Pistons’ rookie continued to show moxie and the willingness to stick his nose into the fray. With Ben Wallace still out with an ankle injury, Charlie Villanueva limited to 10 first-half minutes after spraining his left ankle and Chris Wilcox in foul trouble, John Kuester needed to ride Monroe hard, playing him 38 minutes before pulling him midway through the fourth with the game out of hand. Monroe responded with 10 rebounds and solid defense whether asked to guard athletic Nets rookie Derrick Favors, who went four spots ahead of him in June’s draft, or skilled scoring 7-footer Brook Lopez.
RED FLAG – The stability the Pistons had only recently enjoyed in their playing rotation might be out the window, at least temporarily. Charlie Villanueva crumpled to the floor after gathering a defensive rebound shortly upon entering the game late in the first quarter and came out. He went back in to start the second quarter and played nine minutes, but then left and went to the locker room with what the team called a sprained left ankle. The hope is that because he came back and played on it for as long as he did that the injury won’t be a long-term issue, but the Pistons learned last season how fickle sprained ankles can be. But Villanueva looked pretty gimpy after the game. Stay tuned.
NEWARK, N.J. – However many losses the Pistons can afford to losing teams and still maintain even faint playoff hopes is up for debate, but whatever that number was before Friday it’s one less now.
If Wednesday’s loss at Boston left the Pistons disappointed yet encouraged at the same time, Friday’s 89-74 setback at New Jersey merely offered up a double scoop of heaping frustration sprinkled with anger and topped with discouragement.
The Pistons know they have to win games like this one and felt with their recent stretch of play – three straight wins before the four-point loss at Boston in a game they led most of the way and by eight midway through the fourth quarter – that they would come into New Jersey and not only continue to build momentum but atone for the season-opening loss that established the season’s first-half trend of letting winnable games get away from them.
“It was disappointing,” said Ben Gordon, whose 2 of 7 shooting night typified his team’s flat performance. “But that’s been the story of this year – inconsistent. In the NBA, that’s not going to cut it.”
The Pistons had 20 games against the eight other sub-.500 East teams heading into Friday’s game and every one of them now becomes a zero-sum game – the winner’s playoff chances in every one of them will increase just as the loser’s will suffer. The Pistons have to be on the right end of a significant majority of the 19 now remaining.
The Pistons won’t have long to wallow in this one. They come back to The Palace on Saturday to play one of the West’s similarly struggling teams, Phoenix.
“We’ve been playing awfully good basketball and tonight we just struggled with energy,” John Kuester said. “We were trying to get things going and unfortunately, with us, our offense fuels our defense and we couldn’t generate the type of offensive spurts we’ve been doing as of late. The beautiful thing about the NBA is it’s one game and we’ve got to get ready for tomorrow. We’ve got a big, important game tomorrow.”
They started Friday’s game sluggishly on offensive, shooting under 30 percent for much of the first half and finishing at 33 percent, but stayed on New Jersey’s heels most of the way – they were tied at 53 past the midway point of the third quarter – until their defense betrayed them starting late in that period.
“It’s disappointing – we were flat as a team,” said Greg Monroe, one of the few Pistons who seemed to have the same bounce in his step. “Definitely, they came out with more energy than us. We couldn’t stop them from making their runs. I don’t think we were that bad offensively, we just couldn’t knock down shots. The shots wouldn’t fall today.”
Anthony Morrow, out since mid-December with a hamstring injury, returned and hurt the Pistons badly starting with a 3-pointer on the last possession of the third quarter to put the Nets up 67-60. Another Morrow triple and two other jumpers made it 12 early in the fourth quarter. He finished with 10 points in 14 minutes, all of them in a stretch of just 1:46 that began with the late-third triple.
“Guys came into the fourth quarter and really didn’t have a rhythm,” Gordon said. “That was pretty much the game right there. They came in and they had the momentum. We didn’t and they built on it.”
Nobody typified the Pistons’ offensive struggles in the half more than Rodney Stuckey, who in the first six minutes shot 0 for 5 with two shots blocked, another layup missed and two turnovers.
But Stuckey was hardly alone. Tayshaun Prince was 6 of 17, Chris Wilcox 2 of 7, Austin Daye 1 of 4, Ben Gordon 2 of 7. On a night even one hot hand might have put them over the hump when it was still a game through the late third quarter, nobody could quite get there.
“We were searching,” Kuester said. “It was one of those things. We were looking for somebody to catch fire and we just didn’t have the energy.”