A Win in Washington


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

WHITE HOT – Josh Smith scored 20 points in the second half after missing all six of his shots in the first half and Rodney Stuckey scored 20 off the bench as the Pistons came back from 10 points down in the second half to beat Washington 104-98. The Pistons fought back from 10 points behind in the third quarter to lead by six early in the fourth, Maurice Cheeks didn’t go very deep into his bench, but he got major contributions from the three players he used: Kyle Singler, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, also using a three-guard lineup extensively. John Wall scored Washington’s last 10 points and finished with 34. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a number of big defensive plays in the fourth quarter, including a key steal from Martell Webster with just under 15 seconds to play and the Pistons ahead by four points.

BLUE COLLAR – Coming off a 21-point loss to Utah at home on Friday, the Pistons were headed that way again, trailing by double digits in the first quarter, when Kyle Singler’s sheer hustle lit a fuse. The signature play came after a Will Bynum layup made it an eight-point deficit. A loose-ball situation occurred as Washington moved into the forecourt, but Martell Webster had a good 8 feet on Singler in pursuit of the basketball. But Singler sprinted to catch up and dived to wrestle the ball to his possession, the play ending with a Rodney Stuckey layup. Singler finished with 14 points and four rebounds, hitting 5 of 6 shots.

RED FLAG – The Pistons, last in the NBA in free-throw percentage, again had a subpar night at the line, finishing 18 of 31. Two Josh Smith misses with 6:59 to play that could have given the Pistons a seven-point lead looked especially damaging when John Wall answered with a triple and Washington tied the game on two free throws. They pushed the lead back to five before Andre Drummond missed two foul shots with 2:46 to go. Leading by three with 21 seconds left, Brandon Jennings missed the front end before knocking down the second as the Pistons survived.

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When the Pistons visited Washington three weeks ago, Josh Smith had a first half so nightmarish he never got off the bench in the second. Mo Cheeks is happy he didn’t go back to that playbook the second time around.

And if the Pistons can execute a second-half-of-the-season turnaround of the sort that Smith pulled off Saturday night at Washington, they can start printing playoff tickets now out at 6 Championship Drive.

“We made plays down the stretch,” Cheeks said as the Pistons outscored Washington 58-44 in the second half, rallying from 10 down early in the third quarter to win 104-98 over one of the East’s rising teams. “I talked to our group about just continuing to play hard. Last night was not one of our better games, but I thought the effort we put in tonight was better.”

The Pistons came off a five-day break to lose big at home to Utah on Friday, then headed to Washington where the Wizards had won three straight to reach .500.

“It was a disappointing and embarrassing loss last night and we wanted to be able to come in and give as much energy as possible and beat a hot Wizards team,” Smith said. “They’ve been winning as of late and they have a pretty good team over there. We wanted to come in and match their intensity.”

"We stayed with it… We stayed positive." - Josh Smith on the second-half comebackFull game quotes

Smith was 0 of 6 in the first half for two points, then knocked down 8 of 11 after halftime to finish with 22 points and eight boards. Greg Monroe (12 points and 10 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (10 and 13) added double-doubles, but if you’re going to hand out a silver star to accompany Smith’s gold it has go to the Detroit bench.

It was Kyle Singler’s diving save of a loose ball that turned into a Rodney Stuckey layup that signaled “game on” for the Pistons, who seconds earlier found themselves trailing 26-16 before a Will Bynum layup cut the deficit to eight. Suddenly, the Pistons trailed by only six.

Stuckey, about the only Piston who played aggressively in Friday’s loss as he scored 21 efficient points, followed up with another eye-opener, scoring 20 points and knocking down a few big fourth-quarter shots when he had a matchup advantage on the slower Martell Webster.

“We were just out there flying around, trying to get stops, and we did that,” Stuckey said. “We stayed in the game and we finished it out in the fourth quarter.”

Singler finished with 14 points and Bynum seven points to go with six assists and just one turnover.

“We stayed with it early on,” Smith said. “We stayed positive. The bench guys came in and gave us some great energy.”

“I thought our second unit was the reason we got back in the game,” Cheeks said. “Our second unit kind of changed the game.”

The Pistons played much better defense in the second half after a run of porous defense over the past three weeks. Washington shot 57 percent in the first half, 42 percent in the second, and made just 2 of 11 from the 3-point arc after halftime following a 6 of 10 3-point showing in a 54-point first half.

It wasn’t just the second unit that keyed the comeback, but the makeup of the lineups Cheeks used. The Pistons spent a good chunk of the game with a three-guard lineup where either Stuckey or rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played small forward.

“It was our small lineup that kind of changed it and was able to … create some turnovers and get in the open court,” Cheeks said. “On the offensive end, our second unit, the way they played, getting inside the paint a little bit more.”

Caldwell-Pope hit just 2 of 10 shots, but he was largely responsible for the 2 of 14 shooting performance by Washington’s outstanding Bradley Beal, KCP’s old AAU rival. And the rookie made three late outstanding defensive plays: harassing Beal into a missed layup on which he wasn’t credited with a blocked shot, blocking a Wall breakaway dunk from behind two possessions later with the Pistons protecting a five-point lead in each case, and stepping into the passing lane on a last-ditch Wizards possession for a steal with the Pistons up four.

“It was really big not to give up on the play,” Smith said of the block of Wall’s dunk. “That one and the steal on Martell Webster to seal the game were two big defensive plays.”

“He guarded Beal very well and that block he had coming down the stretch … when you’re guarding a player like Beal, you’ve got to keep the pressure on him,” Cheeks said. “I thought it was very key for this game.”

The Pistons finish the first half of their season Monday when they host another hot team, the Clippers, in a Martin Luther King Jr. day matinee. They’ll reach the second half with a .500 road record and work to do at home. But the work they put in during Saturday’s second half gives them something to rally around.

Said Stuckey: “We’ve just got to stay mentally prepared and just come out and compete and have energy each and every night that we step on the court.”