The Pistons simply aren't good enough to dig themselves out of a hole against most teams, especially on the road. Fortunately, the Nets aren't most teams, so after giving up 29 points on 63% in the first quarter, the Pistons managed to clamp down in the second (allowing just 35.3 FG%) before taking control in a pivotal third, but the question remains: where's the effort early?
In any case, the effort was there late, from the players on the floor to the coaching staff, who drew up a nifty in-bounds alley-oop from Rip Hamilton to Tayshaun Prince to seal the win in the closing seconds. The Pistons still have some serious problems to address before becoming a semi-legitimate contender, but at least the strengths we thought would be there coming into the season are finally starting to show themselves -- namely, a deep and talented backcourt.
Rip Hamilton recently noted that he's willing to become more of a distributor than a scorer if it means getting his team on the right track. Not only did his promise come true, it came within the flow of the offense and didn't detract from his own scoring chances: he finished the game with 22 points and seven dimes, a near mirror image of Rodney Stuckey's 21 points and eight dimes. The big bonus? The duo combined for just a single turnover.
Stuckey had some trouble with his shot -- he finished just 6-17 from the field -- but made up for it by getting to the line 12 times. Games would be a lot more enjoyable to watch if the Pistons keep up this kind of guard play.
Ben Wallace was a defensive menace as usual, finishing with four steals. However, it was his lone block that put him in the record books, becoming the shortest player in NBA history to tally 2,000 blocks in his career. Round numbers are arbitrary milestones (he was shortest player with 1,999 blocks coming into the game, no?), but they're still nice to see, especially as it pertains to his Hall of Fame chances down the road.
Ben Gordon played an ineffective 14 minutes and change, shooting just 2-6 from the field (7 points) -- in his three games since returning to action, he's a combined 7-23 from the field. He's a streak shooter, and given how well the rest of the guards played, there wasn't a huge need to get him going. Still, it's been months since we've seen the explosive scorer capable of putting the team on his back -- at some point he'll no longer be able to point to rust or injury as an excuse.
Charlie Villanueva was awful, too (scoreless in eight minutes), but it was a minor surprise to see him back on the floor after he missed the last game with a back injury. Plus, his absence opened the door for Jason Maxiell, who scored eight points, grabbed six boards and finished a plus-10 in 27 minutes.
Also, poor Austin Daye must have gotten lost at Somerset Mall -- it's the only reason why I can justify giving the kid a DNP-CD.
The Jarvis Hayes Unsung Hero:
MFWB -- for new readers, that's "marvelously friendly Will Bynum" -- was back on the floor after 16 games on the trainer's table with a pair of sprained ankles. He squeezed a lot of production into his 17 minutes of action (10 points, three dimes, two boards and a steal). Apparently guys making the league minimum can't afford to know definition of rust.
As enjoyable as it is to see a competitive game, let alone an actual win, the fact a four-win team took the Pistons to the wire is still a bitter pill to swallow, especially on a night in which the Pistons gave veterans heavy minutes at the expense of young players like Daye (aforementioned DNP) and Jonas Jerebko (who played just 15 minutes, less than half as many as he did on Sunday against the Magic).
Perhaps the reason is because Joe Dumars has asked John Kuester to showcase the vets for a trade -- if that's the case, both Hamilton and Prince boosted their stock. Prince finished with 15 points, a season high and his fourth straight game in double-digits, and eight rebounds, and impressive tally on the heels of his nine-board game on Sunday.
Perhaps Tay is finally getting healthy, or perhaps the carrot of being moved to a legitimate contender has increased his ability to grit his teeth and play through pain. Either way, he's been surprisingly solid over the last week and change. Fortunately, all of the injured and recently ailing vets will have some time to recuperate -- the Pistons don't play again until Friday in Indianapolis.