Hot at Home
Another night, another testament to a better Pistons future. Brandon Knight won by unanimous decision in his head-to-head battle with the runaway favorite for NBA rookie of the year and Greg Monroe and Kyle Singler put up double-doubles as the Pistons won their third straight home game, 108-101 over Portland.
Combined NBA experience for that core trio coming into the season: Monroe’s two seasons and Knight’s lockout-abbreviated rookie campaign.
The road back to respectability starts with beating sub.-500 teams regularly at home, but it’s not an easy step when a team relies on as many young players as the Pistons have enlisted as their future. After losing their first three Palace games – all after taking double-digit leads in the second half – the Pistons have now pulled even at home and are 4-3 since their dizzying 0-8 start with a road-heavy schedule.
“You always want to take care of home court,” Knight said after a season-high 26 points, scored with aggressiveness and efficiency. “That’s key. When teams come here, they have to know that they’re going to be in for a fight and know they’re going to have to play close to a perfect game to get out of here with a win.”
Nobody set the tone better than Singler, the Duke rookie who moved into the starting lineup on the night the Pistons won their first game. He won’t be moving out anytime soon, by all indications. By the time Singler went to the bench with a minute left in the first quarter, he’d already given the Pistons six points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal as they built a nine-point lead. He finished with 16 points to match his previous best and topped himself in other categories with 10 boards and five assists.
“Kyle was outstanding,” Lawrence Frank said. “He played a very, very complete game. Defensively, was very, very solid. Ran the floor extremely well, passed the ball well, rebounding. You look at what he did … that’s pretty good.”
“That’s one guy that really plays off instincts,” Knight said of Singler. “A lot of guys think the game through, but he just goes out and plays – plays hard – and I think that’s one of the things that definitely helps our team, having a guy that just comes in, plays agenda-free basketball and just plays as hard as he possibly can, really has his heart in the right place as far as getting our team a win.”
Knight oozes the same qualities, of course, and after focusing perhaps too intently on making the perfect pass to get teammates involved earlier – sometimes at the risk of turnovers – Knight has found his offensive stride over the last three games. In that span, he’s averaging 21 points and shooting better than 50 percent overall (23 of 38) and from the 3-point line (9 of 16).
“He’s got a great spirit,” Frank said, “and when he plays with that spirit, you can see it and feel it and that’s something that’s lifted the team. That’s an intangible and it’s important that he plays with that every single day.”
Both Frank and Knight thought the story of his night was at least as much about his defense against Portland rookie Damian Lillard, the No. 6 pick, as his scoring. Lillard, leading Portland in scoring at just under 20 a game, was held to 12 on 4 of 18 shooting.
“Definitely defense,” Knight said. “Going up against one of the better rookies in the NBA, who’s been playing extremely well, just our team in general. I’m just proud of how my team – we gave up a lot of easy baskets (against the Knicks on Sunday) and today, playing a similar type of team, be able to come in and get more stops. It wasn’t mistake free, but we were able to fight through and sustain enough that we were able to win the game.”
The Pistons played perhaps their best all-around offensive game of the season, evidenced by the fact seven players scored in double figures and eight had two or more assists, six with at least three. Monroe finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell 11 points each and Tayshaun Prince and Charlie Villanueva 10 apiece. The ball found the open shooter more often than not on a night 52.5 percent of their shots found the net, including 9 of 15 from the 3-point arc.
“In the first half alone, we had four possession that resulted in a score where all five guys touched the ball,” Frank said. “To have seven guys in double figures and a bunch of guys with multiple assists, that’s great.”
“The guys are sharing the basketball,” Knight said. “Our team is very unselfish. Guys are truly looking for each other and when we play team basketball, that’s when we’re very effective.”
Stuckey played point guard behind Knight in the second half, in part because Knight picked up a fourth foul early in the third quarter, but Frank indicated it’s a way of getting Stuckey more minutes, too, and is something to watch.
Villanueva’s offensive flair, meanwhile, is another element that can punch up the second unit’s scoring. After cracking the rotation for the first time this season on Sunday in New York, replacing Jonas Jerebko, Villaneuva said he felt more in rhythm on Monday when he made 4 of 6 shots, 2 of 4 from the arc, and also made two nice moves off the dribble that resulted in easy baskets for teammates.
“Helping this team win is definitely encouraging,” he said. “I feel good out there. Just getting into the rhythm of things. The first game, I was a little rusty. This game, I just felt more comfortable and guys made the right plays and put me in position where I could be successful.”
That’s three straight successful nights at The Palace for a team being led by a bunch of players who figure to have many such successes ahead of them.