Without a true point guard, Pistons offense spin its wheels ‘in mud’ in loss to Knicks

NEW YORK – Teams are always going to miss great players and this year’s Pistons – the version without Blake Griffin and Luke Kennard, never mind the players on the roster to start the season no longer part of the organization – are always going to be better when Derrick Rose has the ball in his hands for as many of 48 minutes as he can bear.

But it’s on nights like Sunday – when easy baskets aren’t available, when the 3-point line doesn’t bail them out, when they aren’t getting to the foul line much and when they’re getting dominated on the glass – that the lack of a savvy, dynamic and experienced NBA point guard is felt most acutely.

The Pistons didn’t have Rose – or Brandon Knight, for that matter, out with hamstring soreness – and that meant point guard was the province of two second-year players, Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas, who … well, aren’t really point guards.

“Bruce is trying,” Dwane Casey said after the 96-84 loss to the New York Knicks. “It’s not Bruce’s fault. In this league, if you’re not a point guard – if you’re trying to be a point guard in this league, developing in this league – it’s difficult. Bruce is trying to run the pick and roll. He’s trying to make the right passes and it’s difficult.”

Compounding the challenge for a Pistons team without a go-to scorer was a back to back that included travel from Detroit to New York, the overnight switch to Daylight Savings Time costing them an hour and the toll that Saturday’s loss to Utah took.

“We fought so hard last night,” Langston Galloway said of a game in which the Pistons rallied from 22 points down in the first half to tie early in the fourth quarter only to fall 16 points behind by the midway point of the fourth – and only to rally again within three points in the final minute. “Just trying to get back in the game with Utah. And tonight, everybody was trying to find a way to knock down some shots. It was one of those nights where it was in and out. Just wasn’t falling our way.”

Christian Wood has emerged as a no-doubt starting-quality big man over the second half of the season, coming off consecutive career-best scoring games of 29 and 30, and he again led the Pistons with 22 points and eight rebounds. But Wood needed help – help scoring and help holding off the waves of Knicks big men who for the second consecutive game dominated the backboards.

The Knicks outrebounded the Pistons by 19 in a February win at Little Caesars Arena, outscoring the Pistons 17-2 in second-chance points. The numbers were similarly lopsided in the Madison Square Garden rematch: a 51-35 rebounding margin and a 19-7 edge in second-chance points.

“They’re really aggressive on the boards and their bigs are really big and know how to take their positions,” Pistons guard Svi Mykhailiuk said. “Mitchell Robinson is a great rebounder. They have a lot of guys who can rebound.”

“Thon (Maker) and Christian were trying,” Casey said. “(Julius) Randle is a beast under there. Gibson’s a beast. Physicality is an issue. That’s something we have to address as an organization.”

For all of the areas where the Pistons lacked punch, they trailed by a single point entering the fourth quarter. But they had to start the fourth with Wood – who logged 38 heavy minutes while scoring his 30 against Utah – taking a rest. In the nearly five minutes he sat, the Pistons generated just four points and trailed by nine when he returned.

Without a Rose-like playmaker to set a defense on its heels, the Pistons spent many possessions throwing the ball around the perimeter before throwing up a tough shot to beat the shot clock.

“We were in mud,” Casey said. “We were playing in mud. (Coaches) were always ‘let’s go, let’s go – pace, pace, pace.’ Good ol’ back to back or whatever is an excuse, but that’s part of the NBA.”

An injury-wracked team playing without a point guard is the worst part of the NBA as far as the Pistons are concerned. The loss saw the Knicks slip ahead of them in the lottery pecking order, New York at 20-44 and the Pistons dipping to 20-45.

“Yeah,” Casey said about Rose’s absence being especially harmful on a night the Pistons spun their wheels. “You miss any talented player that you don’t have. The guys that are not available, you can’t worry about. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. The guys that are dressed, available to play, have to come in and produce and do their job.”