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Pistons learning how to step up in face of adversity

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Players are finally figuring out how to handle the pressure of big-game situations.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Win or lose, Tuesday's matchup with the defending champion San Antonio Spurs was probably the biggest game for Detroit in years.

The Pistons had a five-game win streak on the line, on the road, against the defending champs and they came away with the victory.

"We showed really good resolve to stay within the game. You stay with it, sometimes you get a break." -Stan Van Gundy

They did it, of course, with a fortuitous steal, some Brandon Jennings moxie and by forming a f-ing wall.

And head coach Stan Van Gundy sees not just wins but real growth from his young team, as The Detroit News reports:

"We're getting better and tonight proved it," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We showed really good resolve to stay within the game. You stay with it, sometimes you get a break. Let's face it. We got a very good break at the end. We got lucky.

"But you have to be down one to have that break happen. If you're down 17 and Cory Joseph fumbles the ball (expletive), what do you do? You lose by 15; it doesn't matter. Our resolve, down to the last few seconds, was huge."

It was unlikely the Spurs would be able to convert anything with 0.1 seconds left on the clock, but the expletive-laced wall metaphor resonates because if you've bothered to watch a Pistons game at all in the past several years it is the antithesis of the basketball you've seen displayed.

Because this wall wasn't going to built by bricks (no, not even the ones supplied by Josh Smith), but by men. More specifically, men who are young, figuring things out and have never really had success in the NBA before.

Men like Andre Drummond (20 points, 17 man-sized rebounds and a block), Greg Monroe (17 points, 11 rebounds and some stout post defense) and Brandon Jennings, who never lacks for confidence but consistently lacks in results.

To form a wall the Pistons players were required to stand tall and hold their ground. In previous years, the team's resolve was tissue-paper thin and now it needed to be impenetrable.

The Pistons have won six in a row because of a combination of talent, execution, and, yes, a little luck. Last year, they lacked all three.

Detroit was a frustratingly bad team last year under Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer, but in the fourth quarter they were laughably inept. The Pistons were worst team in the NBA in the game's final frame, getting outscored by 195 points. Before waiving Josh Smith the Pistons found themselves in a familiar spot -- last in the NBA in fourth quarter scoring differential.

But when Smith left this team came together and fourth quarters are no longer their boogeymen. In the six game streak the Pistons have outscored the competition by 14 points, including a blowout victory against the Knicks when the Pistons' scrubs got outscored by 14.

It's fitting that Jennings was the one to hit the game-winner as he is the crystallization of everything wrong with Detroit. Before last night's remarkable buzzer-beater, Jennings was shooting 0-of-14 to tie or take the lead in the last 30 seconds of the game in a Pistons uniform.

There are still signs of the old Pistons cropping up. They came out unprepared in Cleveland and went down 15 early. The Pistons clawed their way back and ended up smashing the Cavs by 23. Tuesday, the Pistons were down 17 in the first quarter and trailed by as much as 18.

The Spurs were simply too quick, too talented and too methodical for the Pistons to handle. But Detroit never wilted. Instead, they trusted in each other and fought their way back, trading blows and runs with the defending champs the entire way.

When things got tight in the fourth quarter the team kept their wits about them and looked for quality shot opportunities and played focused, energetic team defense.

They searched inside themselves and found their strength.

This win streak is going to end eventually, of course, and the fight for the playoffs is a treacherous uphill climb. But what the team is learning right now they will carry with them for the rest of the season, and maybe even beyond.

The players and the organization have finally laid the foundation, and on it they plan on building a f-ing wall.