Knight, Monroe Shine
Now that he’s gone, the players on whose shoulders the Pistons have rested a huge chunk of their future, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, will be first in line to assume the burden Prince bore with relatively little fanfare ever since becoming the last man standing from the Goin’ to Work Pistons that tripped to six straight conference finals.
Early returns? Extremely encouraging.
Playing their first home game without Prince – and their first game without the utter shock factor that they experienced Wednesday at Indiana, when they took the court not quite knowing what was going down – the Pistons led from wire to wire, getting double-double outings from both Knight and Monroe in a 117-99 dousing of Cleveland. They also played without Jose Calderon – a player who also will help fill Prince’s decision-making void – as he works to resolve a visa issue.
Knight set the pace immediately, helping the Pistons to a 6-0 lead they would never lose and racking up eight points, five assists and three rebounds in the first quarter alone on his way to 20 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and just one turnover. None of that reflects the job he did on Cleveland’s budding superstar, Kyrie Irving, the first pick in the 2011 draft that saw Knight fall to the Pistons with the eighth pick.
“I thought Brandon was terrific on both ends,” Lawrence Frank said. “Both the offensive pushes, the tempo, but defensively, his intensity was at a very high level. I thought he really took the challenge against a guy who was the Eastern Conference Player of the Week and an All-Star in Kyrie.”
Irving finished with 14 points, five assists and three turnovers, shooting 4 of 10, and Byron Scott didn’t play him at all during the fourth quarter even though the Cavs came within nine with under five minutes to play. Knight brushed aside the suggestion that he brings a little more passion to the court against Irving, who was considered the No. 1 point guard recruit in the nation three years ago with Knight No. 2, Irving attending Duke and Knight opting for Kentucky.
“I try to keep it consistent no matter who I’m playing against,” he said, “but I definitely enjoy playing against somebody who came in in your own class and a good player. It’s not my job to see who I’m measured by. The most important thing for myself is to try to reach my own potential, not based on anybody else’s or comparing myself. My job is to get the best out of Brandon Knight.”
While Knight was aggressively pushing the ball and leading the Pistons to 117 points, three off their season high on a night they missed 20 free throws, Monroe was dominant in the paint with 18 points and 16 rebounds, plus four assists and two blocked shots.
Maybe the most eyebrow-raising individual outing, though, came from Kyle Singler, starting for Prince after playing out of position as the starter at shooting guard since the season’s ninth game. Singler gave the Pistons 37 minutes and finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals, plus a number of deflected passes. His constant energy helped the Pistons get some easy baskets among their 22 transition points.
All the starters pulled their oars in this win. Rodney Stuckey had a subdued first half, content to lock up Cavs rookie lottery pick Dion Waiters as Knight, Monroe and Singler took star turns. But in the third quarter, the Pistons attacked Waiters by putting Stuckey in the left block. He scored 10 points and needed just four shot attempts to get there.
“Whatever I need to do to make the team win,” he said after his 14-point night. “Tonight we did a good job of sharing the ball with each other. We were getting out on the break a lot more. If we would have made our free throws tonight, we would have won a lot bigger. It was a good team win overall.”
And all the more impressive for the 117-point production in the adjustment to life without Prince. Stuckey soaked up some minutes at small forward behind Singler. Jonas Jerebko had a six-minute stint in the first half but didn’t play after halftime.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys on this team,” Stuckey said. “We’ve got to focus first, get stops, and secondly get out on the break and run and push the ball. We did a good job of that tonight.”
“We’ll miss Tayshaun,” said Knight, who held a special bond with Prince as a fellow Kentucky Wildcat. “He’s a big part of our team, a big leader. He didn’t say much on the court, but his presence was a calming presence for our team and he did so much for us.”
For one night, at least, the Pistons showed they have the resources in their young cornerstones to make do without the security Prince offered. Or at least until Jose Calderon arrives to give them another steady hand in the lonely moments.