Knight Leads Wild Win
Pistons come back late behind Knight’s 31 to beat Orlando againORLANDO – The news out of Boston before the Pistons tipped off at Orlando on Sunday was at once sobering yet motivating. If the East’s last playoff spot appeared in play as the Celtics stumbled to six straight losses, it became an enormous dangling carrot with the revelation that Rajon Rondo would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
That raised the stakes a few notches for the Pistons and Magic, who can entertain postseason thoughts only if they start routinely winning games against the handful of teams now reasonably positioned to capitalize on Boston’s vulnerability.
The Pistons did exactly that Sunday, beating Orlando for the second time in a week, but they took a circuitous route to get there – losing a 13-point lead when the Magic scorched them during a 33-point third quarter but pulling it out behind Brandon Knight’s 31-point outburst, 104-102.
“It doesn’t matter what Boston does,” Lawrence Frank said after the game. “It doesn’t matter what anybody else does if we don’t do our job.”
The Pistons stayed four games behind Boston, which won an emotional double-overtime matinee over Miami, and put a little distance between themselves and the Magic. At 17-27, the Pistons had lost at Chicago and Miami to start this road trip after winning nine of 13 to put themselves on the cusp of playoff contention.
It looked like J.J. Redick was going to single-handedly shoot them out of it early. Redick scored 26 points and shot 5 of 6 from the 3-point line when the Pistons won at The Palace last Tuesday. He was hotter this time, hitting five triples in five tries seven minutes into the game. He finished 8 of 11, matching both his career high and Knight with 31 points.
But he missed his last one, an air ball, after Knight drained triples on consecutive possessions – and drew a charge in between – to flip a three-point deficit to a three-point lead in the final minutes.
The Pistons survived a late volleyball flurry when Jameer Nelson, fouled in the act of a 3-point shot by Will Bynum, made two free throws with Orlando trailing by four but missed the third with 6.7 seconds left. Greg Monroe blocked a Glen Davis tying attempt, then Nic Vucevic and Nelson had tips before a multitude of hands reached for the ball and batted it around as the final few seconds drained off the clock.
“The ball bounced funny sometimes,” said Knight, who saw it bounce true for him on 12 of 16 shots, including 5 of 8 from the arc. “Still, you’ve got to be there and get some of those bounces and make some of those effort plays. I’ve got to commend my teammates on making those effort plays toward the end of the game.”
Frank seemed to enjoy the win with a little more relish than usual, given the comeback after Orlando gathered momentum with a deadly efficient third-quarter scoring barrage and took the lead late. The win also came on a night Frank made Rodney Stuckey inactive, saying only that it was “just a coach’s decision. That’s as far as I’m going. I’m sorry to be evasive, but that’s all I’m giving you.”
With Stuckey out of the mix, Frank – instead of choosing to extend the minutes of the perimeter players already in the rotation – went with Kim English behind Kyle Singler at shooting guard, throwing English into the game against the red-hot Redick. English played 18 minutes and scored six points, making 2 of 3 shots, and chased Redick doggedly around a maze of screens.
“I got some reps in practice yesterday,” English said. “And we talked about some different actions that they run. Every game, I just always try to prepare like I’m going to play. It’s never a surprise if I do, I’m not surprised if I don’t.”
Watching Redick make five 3-pointers before he got off the bench, English said his mentality was, “In my mind, I was going to stop him. I didn’t do as good a job as I wanted, but most important, we won. That’s really all I cared about.”
“Very impressed,” Frank said of English. “You think about a guy who hasn’t played in the rotation. I just loved the confidence he played with. His offensive confidence, he comes off firing. Pick and roll, he kept his dribble. I was proud of Kim. I thought he did very well.”
Frank also chose to go with Charlie Villanueva, not Jason Maxiell or Andre Drummond, alongside Greg Monroe down the stretch.
“I thought he was really good defensively,” Frank said of that decision. “I mean, really good. He spaces the floor – we know that. We had to try to find a combination that could get stops and I really liked Charlie’s defensive intent. He was in tune, locked in, did a nice job.
The bounce-back win leads the Pistons into Tuesday’s home game with another team ahead of them in the Eastern Conference pecking order, Milwaukee. They’ll go into it feeling a little better about themselves after the traumatic loss at Chicago last week and the disappointing outing at Miami.
“Defensively, it wasn’t one of our better efforts,” Frank said, “but I’m proud of our guys, the grit they showed, and I’m happy we came out with a win.”