The Pistons lost their third game in a row on Friday night in Minneapolis to a well-rounded attack by the Timberwolves. While the game remained winnable until the final minutes, Luke Ridnour (yeah, I know) executed down the stretch with solid plays on both ends of the floor that sealed Detroit's fate. It was a tough loss in the fourth quarter, and if it weren't for an astounding number of free throws attempted by the Pistons, this loss would have seemed far more painful than it was.
Was tonight's loss unbearable to watch? Were there any glimmers of hope to be had for the Pistons, any positive signs to help us fans through a tough transitional period? Undoubtedly.
Tonight saw the first career start of rookie Greg Monroe, who put up 8 pounds, 15 rebounds, a steal and a block. That is the best rebounding performance of any Piston so far this season. For a team with its fair share of problems on the glass, it was most certainly a welcome sight. Let's look a little closer at Monroe's time on the court, shall we?
While the cliche can be a little annoying when tossed around pre-draft, it's interesting to watch a "quick study" learn while they play. Monroe started off rough, picking up a shooting foul that gave Minny their first points of the game, then getting dunked on by his man on the next possession. That man was Darko Milicic, who had an easy lane to the basket with his dominant hand since Monroe was guarding his right. Greg Kelser immediately noted that it looked like Monroe didn't realize Milicic is a lefty. After these two early mistakes, which might lead to an early-quarter substitution, Monroe adjusted. For the next 7-and-a-half minutes of the first quarter, which Monroe played entirely, he helped Detroit neutralize the Wolves' frontcourt, who didn't grab a single rebound or point for the rest of that span.
The rest of the game is history. Kevin Love heated up in the 2nd quarter against Maxiell and Villanueva. When Monroe was back on the floor, he did a solid job d-ing up Darko and boxing out his man for rebounds. For me, the most interesting part of Greg's game tonight was his defense. With 7:15 left in the 3rd quarter, Milicic attempted to swing around Monroe, behind the basket for a layup on the other side. Without fouling, Monroe bodied into Darko and forced him out of bounds, turning the ball over to Detroit. A minute later, Darko attempted a crafty post move that Monroe didn't fall for, leading to a 6-foot airball into Rip's hands on the other side of the rim. Sure, Darko isn't a brilliant offensive player, but his size advantage and a renewed focus on post-play didn't faze Monroe when it counted.
What Darko did do was block Monroe like it was going out of style. Monroe had 5 shots blocked (out of six misses total), four of which came from Darko by my count. When things get heavy in the paint, Monroe seems like he doesn't give any effort to fight through contact. He'll waste time, lower his center of gravity and either lose the ball or bring it up to a waiting shot blocker. It looks like a lack of confidence and energy combined. For Greg's game, offense is going to be an important point of development, potentially one that could make his career. His defense and his rebounding, two of the top needs from an NBA center, were fully under control tonight.
What else happened tonight? Hit the jump for the rest of the details, now that we've taken care of the 500lb. moose in the room.
- Richard Hamilton came to play tonight, scoring 26 points thanks to 50% shooting from the field, two 3-pointers and 6 points earned at the charity stripe. More of this, please. In fact, let's just go ahead and do this from now until the trade deadline.
- Rodney Stuckey led all players with 10 free throw attempts, making 9 to save what was otherwise a horrible shooting night.
- Charlie Villanueva of 2010-11 is starting to look more and more like Charlie Villanueva of 2009-10, thanks to a series of foolish fouls, bad shots and worse defense. Perhaps this is the norm-- start out hot, tank from there. I hope not.
- Luke Ridnour torched Detroit's guards with 20 points and 10 assists. At one point, Tracy McGrady appeared to possibly save the game for Detroit, stripping the ball from Darko Milicic-- only to lose it to Luke Ridnour seconds later.
- Kevin Love had a Kevin Lovey game tonight, 27 points, 18 rebounds.
The Timberwolves had six players in double digits compared to Detroit's three, who were Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. Surprise, surprise.