The Right Path

Pistons reclaiming identity under Frank as a team that fights for 48
WASHINGTON – By week’s end, the Pistons will have been deposited in all four time zones of the lower 48 states over the past 10 days. Their most recent 10 games will have been played in 10 different arenas. They’ll have been on the road – save for the 1½ days they spent at home late last week to swap out suitcases and host the Miami Heat quickly – for a day short of three weeks.

They’re a tired team and one not favored by the standings for postseason reward.

But they’ve already taken some very necessary steps – in the early stages of the season, even their backward steps were necessary ones – and they fully intend to use the season’s final 17 games to take a few more.

The most important one? Reclaiming their identity as a team that will fight you for 48 minutes, no matter the odds or the adversities. Finding a coach who could reach inside his players and strike that cord is what Joe Dumars intended last off-season when he launched his coaching search. In Lawrence Frank, by all indications, he’s found that guy.

The evidence was never more striking than in their most recent game, Monday’s improbable 79-77 win at Washington on a night that it appeared fate was telling them they had no chance. A team with lesser mental resolve would have listened to those messages, accepted the inevitable and moved along to Cleveland for Game 50.

But the Pistons – Lawrence Frank’s Pistons, feisty and resolute – kept charging. There was Brandon Knight, flying over the bench in pursuit of a loose ball that instead resulted in a chance collision with the Gatorade bucket. There was Ben Wallace, indefatigable as always, rushing in off the bench and chasing down loose balls and big rebounds. There was Jonas Jerebko, who for the longest time seemed to be playing at a different speed than his teammates and kept at it until they caught up.

And, finally, there was Rodney Stuckey, waving off the pain of a nagging foot injury, swallowing the frustration of three first-half charging calls that went against him and willing to take the big shots in the final minute when it was time to cash in their chips – not just for persevering through 48 minutes, but through all the preceding 48 games, too many of them seemingly intent on crushing the spirit Frank had spent so much time working to instill.

Frank allowed before the game that teams with length and athleticism, which Washington possesses, often pose the toughest challenges for the Pistons. He said it in a way that conceded not an inch, of course, in lockstep with his mentality

“You’ve just got to be smarter,” he shrugged.

His players will never see Frank latch on to an excuse. When an injured player is unavailable – as Stuckey had been for the previous three games – Frank’s invariable response is: “We have enough to win.”

And so, with the season headed for the home stretch, the Pistons have a team that refuses even the most convenient, the most reasonable, of excuses. The kind that were all around them in Washington on Monday night.

“This is definitely big for us,” said Greg Monroe, who exemplified the resilience and resolve by overcoming a personally unrewarding night – he played all of 27 seconds in the fourth quarter – by tapping in a Tayshaun Prince miss to put the Pistons ahead by a point with 23 seconds left, both the rebound and the points giving him the bare minimum needed to record his 24th double-double. “We’ve been in a lot of games like this coming down the stretch and to be able to finally win one close like this, it’s going to be big for us.”

To get where they want to go, where Joe Dumars has taken them before, the Pistons need a few more parts. They could use some of that athleticism Frank sees as challenges in others. But whatever they have, they’re going to maximize. Whenever Joe D lands those few more parts, they’ll come to a team whose foundation is on the firmest of footings.