The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue
WHITE HOT – Washington went on an 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter and wiped out a nine-point Pistons lead, then made more big plays in the final few minutes to post a 106-99 win. John Wall led Washington with 29 points and his tough fadeaway jump shot with 27 seconds left sealed the victory. The Pistons got several big performances from their starters, including double-doubles from Andre Drummond (16 points, 16 rebounds), Brandon Jennings (15 points, 14 assists) and Greg Monroe (22 points, 10 rebounds). Josh Smith added 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 17 first-half points, one better than his previous NBA scoring high, but didn’t score in the second half.
BLUE COLLAR – Kyle Singler struggled through a month-long shooting slump, but he’s been playing at a consistently high level ever since and would be a contender for most consistent Piston. With Rodney Stuckey either out with a sore right shoulder – which he was on Monday – or limited by its effects, Singler has become the rock of Detroit’s bench. He finished with 11 points and three rebounds and made a handful of plays that don’t show up in the box score, including drawing a charging foul.
RED FLAG – The Pistons avoided the disastrous starts that led to runaway losses at Orlando and Washington over the weekend, but they didn’t come out of the first quarter with the comfortable lead they might have had because they shot 2 of 9 at the foul line. The Pistons came into the game last in the NBA in foul shooting, making just .668 of their attempts, well below the league average of .754. They finished just 21 of 35 while Washington hit 21 of 27, led by John Wall, who made his first 13 before missing one with 16 seconds to play.
If inconsistency is the hallmark of young teams, then it probably shouldn’t shock anyone that the Pistons – with the NBA’s youngest starting five – would probably rank correspondingly high if there was a universal means to accurately quantify inconsistency. Theirs isn’t merely game to game, but a half to half or quarter to quarter inconsistency.
Alas, the one area where the Pistons have managed to find a hint of consistency is in their fourth-quarter ineffectiveness. They came into Monday night’s game with Washington last in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring margin at minus-2.8, then saw that number inflate to minus-3.1 as the Wizards outscored them 28-12.
That ruined a night that was on the verge of redeeming their wipeout weekend, lopsided losses at Orlando and Washington in which they trailed from wire to wire and played fourth quarters that didn’t matter either night.
This one did. The Pistons opened the first breathing space on either side late in the second quarter and led by 10 at halftime and by nine after three quarters. The Wizards scored the last three points of the third quarter after the Pistons had taken the night’s biggest lead, 12, and then … well, it wasn’t pretty.
“Whoof,” Mo Cheeks sighed. “We had a nice game going and that fourth quarter, we just got stagnant. We didn’t keep playing the way we had played for those three quarters.”
The first half was sublime. The Pistons scored 63 points and compiled 19 assists on 25 baskets. They finished with 26 assists, two short of their season high, and shot 35 percent in the second half. They were 3 of 15 in the fourth quarter with one solitary assist, as both Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith shot 1 of 6 and the only other basket was an Andre Drummond tip-in.
“They didn’t do anything to take it away – we just stopped moving the ball like we did the first half,” said rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who benefitted from the ball movement by scoring all 17 of his points, an NBA best, before halftime. “We started turning it over a lot. We’ve got to protect the ball in the second half like we did in the first half.”
The Pistons saw their offensive rebounds decline with corresponding drama, too, from 14 in the first half to four in the second. Those weren’t unrelated categories. The ball movement they generated early got Washington’s defense moving and on its heels and created lanes that the elite rebounding frontcourt of Smith, Drummond and Greg Monroe could exploit.
As they started to squeeze the ball a little tighter in the fourth quarter, they resorted to feeding Smith in the post and got very little cutting or movement around him.
“We needed to score. They continued to score and we needed the ball on the block,” Cheeks said. “We didn’t want to shoot a lot of jump shots. We wanted to get the ball on the block and we wanted to get to the foul line. That was our best chance with (Smith) or with Greg. The way they were spreading the floor, we had to go with one big and we went with Andre, and Josh becomes the focal point of being on the block.”
When the basket got smaller on the Pistons, Washington – as it did in its easy win two nights ago – became more aggressive with the increasingly confident John Wall probing to great effect. He finished with 29 points and seven assists with nine points and two assists against no turnovers in the fourth quarter.
"We have to protect the ball in the second half like we did in the first half." - Brandon Jennings on the second halfFull game quotes
But that underscored another issue. By the time Wall returned to the court with 7:36 to play, Washington had already erased all of Detroit’s nine-point lead. Without Rodney Stuckey, who missed the game with his recurring shoulder problem, the Pistons just didn’t get enough from their bench. Jennings picked up his fourth foul late in the third quarter and needed a breather, also, so Cheeks went as long as he felt he could with Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum. Over four possessions, the Pistons incurred three turnovers and got a Smith missed jump shot out of their other trip.
“I trust Will and I trust Chauncey in the game,” Cheeks said. “It comes down to making plays in the fourth quarter and we didn’t make plays.”
The Pistons made almost no plays in another fourth quarter. Some of that, surely, is a function of their youth and the integration of key newcomers under a new coach. But some of it, just as surely, is the doubt that creeps into the collective psyche of a team that’s now experienced more than its share of fourth-quarter trauma.
“If things happen over and over and over, as that continues to come about, you’re going to have some anxiety about it,” Cheeks said. “That’s with everybody and everything. In order for it to stop, it has to happen. Whoever’s out on the floor, we have to be successful at it. Then it’s overcome.”
The Pistons get five days off before their next game. It would have been much sweeter to have held on and reflect on a win over those five days, but they’ll take the break. If nothing else, they’ll come back five days older and that much closer to the breakthrough they have faith awaits them.