The Pistons did more than win a game Wednesday; they won an identity, as Joe Dumars' vision of a jumbo-sized frontcourt dominating the opposition was finally realized in a meaningful game.
Greg Monroe led the Pistons over the Wizards, 113-102, by scoring 24 points with 16 rebounds, the opening salvo in a season-long campaign for a maximum contract next summer. Josh Smith, the controversial free agent acquisition, filled nearly every column in the box score with 19 points, five assists, five rebounds and a block. Andre Drummond finished with 12 points and eight rebounds despite sitting virtually the entire fourth quarter due to foul trouble.
"That’s where we feel like our advantage is, with those three big guys," said Chauncey Billups after the game. "We should have an advantage on 90 percent of the nights in this league. We have to go to that. The good thing about it is all those guys are really good passers and we have perimeter shooters as well, when they get in there, don’t have something [and] kick it out to some of our shooters. It makes for a tough attack."
More times than not, the big men did have something down low: as a team, they scored 56 points in the paint, doubling up the Wizards. And when they didn't, no one saved them more often than Billups, who converted a team-high four 3-pointers, including two in the span of a minute that helped stymie a fourth-quarter run by the Wizards.
Billups scored 10 of his 16 points in the final quarter, finishing with five assists. Will Bynum, who joined Billups in the starting lineup, scored 19 points with five assists. Rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored seven with two steals and two assists.
With Drummond, Monroe and Smith packing the paint, it's going to be difficult for teams to score inside -- but shooters who catch fire outside will be able to do some damage. Just ask Trevor Ariza, who scored a game-high 28 points thanks to a 6-for-11 performance from 3-point land. I imagine we'll see a lot of teams attempt that strategy, avoiding Detroit's considerable size advantage down low by attempting to pick them apart from a distance. But keep in mind: the Wizards shot remarkably well, sinking 10-of-25 (40 percent) 3-pointers as a team, and still lost by 11. Long shots (usually) result in more rebounds.
On the other side of the ball, the Pistons proved capable of scoring with startling efficiency for long stretches: look no further than the second quarter in which they shot 63 percent and took a 12-point lead into halftime for proof.
Andre Drummond looked primed for a monster game entering the break, scoring 10 points with eight rebounds in the opening two quarters. Unfortunately he was held to just two more points the rest of the way, playing fewer than nine minutes. Don't read too much into this; Drummond picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in the span of 20 seconds in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
He was clearly frustrated by both calls, punching the stanchion after being whistled for aggressive defense and then staring at the official in disbelief when Marcin Gortat drew an offensive foul the next possession. (The second call was ticky-tack, and refs will start to swallow their whistles as he becomes more established.)
That said, the beauty of this crazy lineup isn't just how the big men share the court but also how they share minutes. When Drummond left to watch the final 11 minutes from the bench, Monroe re-entered the game -- and proceeded to grab seven of his game-high 16 rebounds. Most teams won't be able to counter that type of depth on a nightly basis.
Before you start raising expectations from a potential playoff berth to home-court advantage (oh, believe me, I thought about it, too), understand that there's still much to learn about this team -- especially with Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey still sidelined. (The good news is that Stuckey hopes to return Friday, but Jennings will likely miss several more games.) And, don't forget, the Pistons have had the Wizards' number for quite some time, winning Wednesday for the 15th time in 17 meetings.
And yes, mathematically speaking, this game merely accounts for 1/82nd of a long season. But anyone who suffered through the last several years, anyone who knew in the back of his head that striving for mediocrity used to be setting the bar too high, anyone who's used to having the optimism beaten out of them the first month of the season with 4-20 and 0-8 starts ... to any of those fans, it feels like something more.
I don't fully comprehend what that is, but I'm excited to find out.