Turning the Tide

Pistons jump on Bobcats early in wire-to-wire win

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

– Slow starts had doomed the Pistons for a week, falling behind quickly by double digits to Chicago, Dallas and Milwaukee. Jonas Jerebko single-handedly made sure that wouldn’t be the case in Friday’s 98-81 win over Charlotte, which snapped the Pistons’ six-game losing streak while extending Charlotte’s streak to six. Jerebko scored 12 points and grabbed three rebounds in the first quarter alone, making five of his seven shots, as the Pistons led by eight early and never trailed after tying Charlotte at 4-4. He finished one rebound shy of a double-double, scoring 22 points to go with nine rebounds, making 9 of 12 from the field. It was Charlotte that had reached out most aggressively to Jerebko prior to the 2009 draft. Armed with the 40th pick, the Bobcats told Jerebko they would guarantee him a roster spot. His agent, Doug Neustadt, asked teams picking just ahead of Charlotte to pass on him. The Pistons, picking 39th, didn’t guarantee a roster spot but went ahead and selected him anyway.

BLUE COLLAR – Greg Monroe wasn’t quite as sizzling as 24 hours earlier in Milwaukee, when he shot 12 of 16 en route to a career night, 32 points and 16 rebounds. But he was still the best player on the floor with 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Monroe, after playing 40 minutes against the Bucks, gave the Pistons 17 strong first-half minutes and could have had even better numbers than his 11, four and four if a few calls and a few breaks had gone his way. With the game well in hand by the midway point of the fourth quarter, Monroe only had to play 33 minutes in the win.

RED FLAG – The Pistons led by 21 late in the third quarter when Bobcats coach Paul Silas, frustrated and out of options, went to a zone defense. The Pistons struggled to find good shots against the zone. Over their first seven possessions of the fourth quarter, they managed only three points on a corner 3-pointer from an unlikely source, Damien Wilkins, with the shot clock dwindling. Had the Bobcats been a little more efficient offensively, they could have really pressed the Pistons and cut deeper into the lead than they did, managing to cut it to 13. The Pistons finally countered with three 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, the first two from Brandon Knight and the last from Jonas Jerebko.

The Pistons went into Friday’s game with Charlotte 29th in the NBA in scoring. Charlotte entered 30th in points allowed. The resistible force trumped the movable object. The Pistons averaged 83.7 points a game through their first 11. They nearly matched that in three quarters against the Bobcats and led by double digits for much of the game.

After falling behind big in most recent games, the Pistons jumped on Charlotte early – but the seeds for the win were really planted in snow-covered Milwaukee 24 hours earlier.

Lawrence Frank left the stormy Midwest the night before optimistic an offensive breakthrough had been achieved but concerned about defensive breakdowns. Against a team struggling at least as badly as the Pistons – Charlotte came in on a five-game losing streak and lost by 30 at Atlanta on Thursday – Frank’s team outplayed their opponent at both ends in a convincing win they hope is the springboard for better days.

“We had some glimpses against Milwaukee,” said Jonas Jerebko, who matched a career high with 22 points and added nine rebounds. “Today we had a complete game instead of just half a game.”

The Pistons got contributions across the board, but the central figures were Jerebko, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight – all drafted in the last three years by Joe Dumars. Jerebko, who’d scored 12 points in his last three games combined, matched that figure in Friday’s first quarter.

“Jonas was exceptional tonight,” Frank said. “He just had great purpose throughout the game, great energy, all over the ball, making multiple-effort plays. We talked after the (Milwaukee) game – how are we going to build on the spirit our guys showed? We took a step tonight.”

“(The Milwaukee performance) helped a lot just because we made it a tough game,” Knight said after recording his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds to go with four assists and no turnovers. “We didn’t win and we’re not happy about losing, but the effort was there, the intensity was there, and we showed a lot of things we hadn’t in previous losses. So it was really something to look forward to tonight, just seeing how we would come out.”

It was Knight who snuffed out Charlotte’s last best hope. Bobcats coach Paul Silas, groping for answers, threw a zone defense at the Pistons late in the third quarter. It helped the Bobcats cut a 21-point deficit to 13 when the Pistons scored only once on their first seven fourth-quarter possessions, but then three consecutive triples, the first two by Knight, sucked the drama from the game and what little energy remained in Time Warner Cable Arena.

“My teammates attacked the gaps of the zone, created opportunities for me and I was able to knock them down,” said Knight, beginning to get a better gauge of when to attack the basket and when to probe for shots on the perimeter. “Damien Wilkins, Rodney Stuckey – if not for them creating opportunities for me, those shots wouldn’t have gone in or I wouldn’t have been able to take them.”

Monroe, a night after his 32-point, 16-rebound performance, came back with 19 points, nine boards and five assists.

“Everyone who played contributed and impacted the game,” Frank said. “That’s what we need.”