Rally Ruined

Pistons come back from 17 down, but can’t close out in loss to Knicks

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

WHITE HOT – Josh Smith missed a jump shot that would have put the Pistons ahead with seven seconds to play and completed a comeback from 17 points down as New York held on for an 89-85 win, Detroit’s fifth straight loss. The Pistons were outscored 32-17 in the third quarter to fall 15 points behind after being tied at halftime. Carmelo Anthony hit his first five triples – including three to spark a 15-0 Knicks run in the third quarter and a huge one when the Pistons had pulled within three points late in the game – and finished with 34 points, 20 after halftime. Smith finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, though he also committed eight turnovers, including three of Detroit’s seven in the third quarter when the Knicks scored 10 points off their miscues. Greg Monroe added 19 points and seven rebounds and Andre Drummond had 12 points and 17 boards for the Pistons.

BLUE COLLAR – Will Bynum returned from a hamstring injury last month but his trademark explosiveness had been missing. He showed flashes of it at Madison Square Garden and the Pistons needed his contributions on a night the rest of their backcourt struggled. Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot a combined 3 of 16 and Chauncey Billups didn’t play after going scoreless in eight first-half minutes. Bynum finished with 10 points, four assists and four rebounds.

RED FLAG – The Pistons rank 30th in the NBA in both 3-point shooting and foul shooting. They were much better from the foul line against the Knicks – they made 18 of 23, including 16 of their first 18 – but their 3-point shooting, which had been improving lately thanks mostly to Kyle Singler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, betrayed them badly. The Pistons missed their first eight – a Brandon Jennings triple in the third quarter snapped New York’s 15-0 run to give the Pistons their first make – and finished 3 of 19.


NEW YORK – Another comeback for the ages came up about seven seconds and 2 feet short. It wouldn’t have been quite as dramatic as climbing out of a 21-point hole at Boston last month, but coming back from 17 down late in the third quarter at New York would’ve been a bigger salve to a more desperate team.

As it is, the Pistons will have to take whatever solace and confidence boosting they can find from their near-miss at New York, from the resolve they showed this time when things turned against them.

“We had a very good effort,” Mo Cheeks said after Josh Smith missed a 17-foot jump shot from the right wing that didn’t come close to grazing the rim, a shot that would have given the Pistons a one point lead inside of 10 seconds. “Got down 17, able to fight back and just didn’t make any shots toward the end to help us get over the hump. But we played hard.”

That stook in stark contrast to the taste in their mouths following Sunday’s loss to Memphis, when they could muster little resistance in getting outscored by 33 points in the second half to wipe out a five-point halftime lead.

“We’re getting there,” Smith said after the team’s fifth straight loss, “but definitely a disappointing loss.”

Smith spoke in a low monotone after the game, upset not only with his team’s fifth straight loss but at his lack of aggressiveness on the critical possession. It came after he stepped in front of Carmelo Anthony to draw a charge and give the Pistons the ball with 27 seconds to play trailing by a point.

When I asked Smith if he got the shot he wanted, he said, “No, I didn’t. I’m still beating myself up because I could have been a little more aggressive and tried to put the initiative on the referees to make the call. It was a shot that is definitely going to be with me to the next game so I can try to get it out of my head.”

Cheeks was down to one 20-second timeout and wanted to save it, so he didn’t burn it after the Anthony charge. Instead, he’d gone over the plan when the Knicks called time with 46 seconds left – the play that resulted in Anthony’s foul.

“We are getting there but this was definitely a disappointing loss.”

- Josh Smith on the game
Full game quotes
“I had a play in mind and they ran the play,” Cheeks said, a play the Pistons call “horns.” “I would’ve liked to have seen him drive it. He didn’t drive it. I trust the shot he took. It didn’t go in and we live with it.”

Anthony and Smith were at the center of this one, for good and bad. Anthony was largely responsible for breaking a tight game open. It was tied 41-all at halftime and the Pistons led 49-47 when Mike Woodson called timeout with 8:14 to play in the third quarter. The Knicks got a lob dunk to Kenyon Martin out of the timeout, then back-to-back triples from Anthony – both from the corner nearest Detroit’s bench, the second out of a loose-ball scramble that ended with Smith on the floor – in a span of 75 seconds to force a Cheeks timeout.

“He has a green light,” Smith said of guarding Anthony, who hit 6 of 7 triples and scored 20 of his 34 points after halftime. “Ninety-five percent of the offense runs through him. Anytime you’re playing an offensive-savvy player like him, you have to try to make him a volume shooter and try to make him work as much as possible. And that’s all I can try to do.”

“They went on an 8-0 run I called a timeout and they scored another seven points,” Cheeks said. “That was the difference. … (Anthony) made a couple of threes off of broken plays. I thought Josh did a nice job of making him work for the points he got.”

Anthony didn’t do much else on offense besides score, though he grabbed a huge rebound off a Knicks free throw miss with five seconds left that prevented the Pistons – using the timeout that Cheeks had saved – from setting up to tie or win the game. Smith, for his part, finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, but also committed eight turnovers, getting stripped several times by Anthony (four steals) and reacting with visible frustration when he thought he’d been fouled.

But Smith said that wasn’t on his mind when he took the jump shot instead of attacking the rim on the critical final Detroit possession.

“No, I’m still trying to be relentless in being aggressive. There were some calls that were missed, but I have to keep focusing on being aggressive. I was one possession less aggressive tonight and I should have been most aggressive on that play right there.”

Cheeks pared down his rotation again, for the most part, using eight players in the first half except for a cameo late from Josh Harrellson and then not using Chauncey Billups after halftime. But he did turn to Charlie Villanueva in the fourth quarter with the Pistons down 13 and rode with him down the stretch after the game tightened. In 10 minutes, Villanueva gave the Pistons five points, three rebounds and an assist in his native New York and might have done enough to earn another look.

“I liked Charlie’s play,” Cheeks said. “He was aggressive, he got to the post, which is something new for him, but he did a nice job tonight.”

Villanueva admitted it wasn’t easy sitting, nor to find himself in the midst of a taut game after not having played a meaningful minute in weeks.

“For sure. I haven’t played in a while, but it’s basketball still. I think I’m a very confident player and know how to play this game, so I just went out there and played.”