Kentavious Caldwell-Pope isn't much interested in exchanging verbal shots. He wanted the shot that Markieff Morris and his Phoenix Suns would remember to be the one he launched from the top of the 3-point arc with three seconds left and the Pistons trailing by a point.
That one missed and the Pistons lost a game that stung, 88-86. They would never have been in position to win it, of course, if Caldwell-Pope hadn't hit two other 3-point shots in the final two minutes – the first to start a 9-0 run and the last to cap it – that saw the Pistons go from trailing by eight with 1:52 to play to leading by one with 34 seconds left.
But Morris – entangled in a confrontation with Caldwell-Pope midway through the second quarter that saw both get technical fouls – felt compelled after the game to question Caldwell-Pope's fortitude.
"You know he doesn't have any heart," Morris was quoted as saying, "so we knew he was going to miss."
Caldwell-Pope took the high road Thursday, basically shrugging it off. He hadn't heard the quote, but heard about, he said.
"Hey, that's his opinion. I know what I can do, how I carry myself, so that's his opinion of me. It is what it is."
A little more willing to engage in verbal counterpunching was Stan Van Gundy, never one to let one of his get picked on.
"I'm not quite sure – maybe he knows – but I'm not quite sure what Markieff Morris has accomplished in the league that gets him to the point of mouthing off. I don't like the mouthing off, anyway. It seems to me you should at least participate in a playoff game before you do. But maybe not. Maybe that's not the standard any more."
Van Gundy saw a toughness to Caldwell-Pope early on, starting with practices that led to Summer League play in Orlando, so as surely as he would have rushed to the defense of anyone on his roster over similarly reckless opposition commentary, he was doubly quick to do so where this player was concerned. Especially, perhaps, because of the second-quarter spark that lit the fuse.
It grew out of a play where Caldwell-Pope was whistled for an offensive foul in the paint, a charge taken on a bang-bang play by Morris. As they untangled, things got heated.
"A lot of things were said before we got up in each other's face," he said. "It was just throughout the game, a lot of things were said. Once that happened, just escalated to that."
Referees quickly intervened once Caldwell-Pope stood jaw to jaw with Morris and teammates pulled the players away before either crossed a line. But Van Gundy didn't mind that Caldwell-Pope needed a little friendly restraint.
"I thought KCP was ready to go," he grinned. "You like that. You like having to pull a guy away a little bit. If we would have all just walked away – referees, us included – KCP was ready to go. He wasn't backing down from anything."
Not from taking the last shot – on the court – either.
"It felt good coming off," he said. "It just didn't go down how I wanted it to go down. The shot just didn't go in. Next time, it will."