Double Play

Pistons lose Prince, but hold off Wizards to win home-and-home set

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

White Hot – The Wizards recovered from their second wobbly start in as many nights against the Pistons, surviving a 1 of 15 shooting opening to close within seven points of the Pistons early in the second quarter and then slashing a 22-point third-quarter deficit to six. But both times the Pistons responded, getting solid play off the bench from several players. Nobody was better than Charlie Villanueva (19 points, seven rebounds) and Rodney Stuckey (18 points, eight assists). Stuckey, taking his normal turn despite a teeth-rattling elbow absorbed in Friday’s 32-point win, propelled the second-quarter run with 10 points and five assists in the first half alone. Villanueva and Austin Daye each were a perfect 2 of 2 from the 3-point arc in the quarter, and Andre Drummond controlled the defensive boards, finishing with 11 rebounds in 24 minutes.

BLUE COLLAR – If there was any concern about the Pistons letting down and Washington attacking to avenge its Friday night embarrassment, Jason Maxiell helped send the message it wouldn’t be that easy early. In the first six minutes, Maxiell blocked two shots, drew a charge on Jordan Crawford that wiped out a basket, stripped Nene in the post to fuel a Pistons fast break and crashed the basket to tip in a Brandon Knight miss. When the Wizards rallied in the fourth quarter, Maxiell knocked down two big free throws and powered for a dunk off a nice feed from Will Bynum to help keep Washington at arm’s length. Maxiell finished with 12 points, five boards and two blocks.

RED FLAG – Off a two-game winning streak and heading into their first three-day break of the season, the last thing the Pistons needed was a second-half injury in the course of what appeared a blowout win. But that’s what they experienced as Tayshaun Prince landed on Nene’s foot after a third-quarter jump shot and twisted his right ankle. Prince stayed in the game to shoot his free throws – he wouldn’t have been eligible to return if he hadn’t, though he left immediately and never returned – and the Pistons had a 22-point lead at the time. Washington immediately went on a 8-0 run and soon had the lead cut to six before the Pistons recovered.

The Washington Wizards hoped a change in venue and the return of Nene and Bradley Beal would be enough to close the 32-point gap that separated them from the Pistons in Friday night’s massacre at The Palace. Maybe if Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe and Elvin Hayes had joined Nene and Beal, they would have had a fighting chance.

It wasn’t quite as easy as it was in the first of the rare home-and-home set, but the Pistons thrice stopped Washington’s momentum before their comebacks could wipe out big leads for a 96-87 win that sent them home happy for Christmas.

“It’s always difficult playing a team two nights in a row,” said Greg Monroe, who returned to the arena where he played college basketball for his two seasons at Georgetown and put up 13 points and eight rebounds. “In this league, guys are so good at making adjustments. We did a good job of withstanding their run in the second half. We came out with a lot of energy in the first half and we were able to hold them off.”

Washington, as it had on Friday night, had another bizarrely inefficient shooting start, this time missing 14 of its first 15 shots. The Pistons didn’t do as much with it as they could have, yet still led by nine after a quarter and stretched it to 19 by halftime thanks to their bench. On a night Detroit’s bench not only outscored its starters 52-44 but Washington’s bench by 28 points, nobody was better than Charlie Villaneuva and Rodney Stuckey.

Stuckey, who wasn’t certain to play after taking Kevin Seraphin’s elbow to the teeth in Friday’s win, stabilized the Pistons when Washington made its first run of the night, pulling to within seven in the second quarter.

Villanueva and Austin Daye hit four consecutive 3-point shots for the Pistons to stretch the lead back to 17 in a heartbeat and Stuckey got to halftime with 10 points and five assists. Impressively, he didn’t let the memory of Seraphin’s elbow scare him away from taking the ball hard to the basket, as evidenced by his 10 free throws attempted.

It was Washington’s second comeback, though, that was the most serious and gave the Pistons the most pause, especially given the circumstances. The rout was in full flower early in the third quarter, the Pistons leading by 21, when Tayshaun Prince came down on Nene’s foot and crumpled to the floor in agony, clutching his right ankle. Prince stayed in the game long enough to shoot his free throws only because not doing so would have made him ineligible to return, the exact situation that saw Slava Kravtsov replace Stuckey in Friday’s win.

Prince split the pair, giving the Pistons their largest lead at 22, but it wouldn’t last long. Over the next six minutes, Washington outscored the Pistons by 16 points to pull within six, the Pistons committing eight turnovers in the quarter as Washington threw a press at them that not only forced errors but often had the Pistons starting their offense at 15 seconds or less on the shot clock.

“Their pressure and the intensity level they played at disrupted us,” Lawrence Frank said. “It made us a little off-balance. Our turnovers led to their transition points. Once we got settled, we were able to make plays. Our bench was huge. Rodney, Charlie and Will (Bynum) all made really big plays. We couldn’t win the game without ’em.”

Stuckey finished with 18 points and eight assists, Villanueva with 19 points and seven rebounds.

“When Rodney and I play the two-man game, we can use that to our advantage,” Villanueva said. “Rodney commands a lot of attention by driving the basketball and overpowering point guards. The fact I come and set a pick, I can spread the floor and create not only for Rodney but for others as well.”

The Pistons pushed the lead back to 14 points before the third quarter ended, but Washington had one more gasp and the bench was at the heart of repelling that one, too.

Bynum’s performance will be less heralded, but he finished on a night Brandon Knight struggled and played 13 minutes against Washington’s second-half pressure without committing a turnover. He drained a big triple when Washington had again cut its deficit to seven with five minutes left. Every time the Pistons needed a play to prevent Washington from scratching back ever closer, it seemed it was someone off their bench who made it: Stuckey, Villanueva, Bynum, Daye or Andre Drummond, who again got into double digits in rebounds.

“Playing a team back to back is very difficult, especially the way we won last night,” Villanueva said. “We knew they were going to come out and give us all they had. Give them credit. They made their run, but we stayed poised and made the plays and got the stops we needed.”