Had the Pistons been able to finish off a remarkable comeback and won at Atlanta after trailing 84-62 with 10:58 left in Wednesday’s fourth quarter, they’d be carrying the season’s first three-game winning streak into a much-anticipated Friday game with defending NBA champion Miami and looking at tangible proof of the ground they’ve covered since the season tipped off nearly two months ago.
Now? Now the challenge is to somehow build off of all of the positives that comeback entailed – the audacity of their bench in believing they had a shot, the chemistry that group has developed in recent games, the continued consistent contributions of Andre Drummond – while massaging out the negatives that led to the 22-point hole and producing wins out of winnable games.
“It’s a devastating loss, but whatever you do there are going to be ups and downs,” said the player at the center of the comeback, Will Bynum, who scored 26 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter and two overtimes. “You have to take the positives out of that. If not, there’s nothing to go forward on. We’ve got to take the positives from last night and keep trying to build off of them.”
“What are the positives, what are the negatives and what do we need to do?” Lawrence Frank said after Thursday’s light practice. “What are the solutions to fix the negatives? Why did we put ourselves in that position? It was really two different games within the same game. You look at the first and third quarters. After three quarters, Atlanta had 34 fast-break points; 28 of them were in the first and third quarters. Why is that happening? Our turnovers, shot selection? And then to see the second and fourth quarters where they don’t get the transition buckets, well, why?”
The Maimi game begins a stretch of five straight at The Palace and eight out of 10 sandwiched around their trek to London for a “home” game against New York. Frank isn’t plotting any major lineup changes, but he’ll continue to allow the second unit to soak up major minutes on nights the disparity in productivity is what it was in Atlanta.
“We’ll continue to shake the tree,” Frank said. “You look at everyone. We’re going to continue to figure out who should get more time and whose time should be lessened.”
Frank rode his bench hard minutes in Wednesday’s second half. Drummond played the final 26:26 without a break. Bynum played the final 25:05, Daye the last 22:34 and Charlie Villanueva the last 22 minutes. Rodney Stuckey twisted his left ankle – he’s questionable for Friday – with 1.8 seconds left in regulation and sat out the first 2:41 of the first overtime, but otherwise played the final 28:50. No starter other than Tayshaun Prince, who played the 2:43 while Stuckey sat with his ankle injury, played at all in the fourth quarter or either overtime.
It put Frank in a tough spot as the game dragged into double overtime. His strong inclination was to let the bench that made up a 22-point deficit finish what it started.
“This is what you have to weigh,” he said. “You’ve got a bunch of guys sitting there, dry, on the bench and those other guys, I rolled with ’em. The other group put us in the deficit? Hey, I’m going to ride you. There were some different things you could have looked at, but at the end of the day, when you come back from a huge deficit, philosophically, I’ll win and lose with the group that had the spirit and the fight to get there and then I’ll deal with the after effects of, ‘Oh, you played this guy too long.’ That’s fine. He deserved it.”
Atlanta coach Larry Drew, likewise, did little shuffling once the Pistons reasserted themselves and got back in the game. Only DeShawn Stevenson and Zaza Pachulia played in either overtime and only for a combined 41 seconds. Drew’s starters might have been a little fresher than Frank’s bench, though, as they sat out the first four to seven minutes of the fourth quarter with a lead Drew had to believe was safe – right up until it wasn’t.
The bench has had three straight strong games, outscoring the starters 185-140 over that span. Three of those players – Bynum, Villanueva and Daye – have accounted for 41 DNP-CDs (Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision) on the season. But they’ve struck on a winning chemistry so far with Bynum and Stuckey’s attacking ability, the floor-stretching shooting of Daye and Villanueva and Drummond’s sheer size and athleticism anchoring the middle.
“It’s just hard to stop with two guys who can get into the paint and make plays for themselves and for their teammates and Dre rolling and Austin and Charlie out there at the 3-point line,” Bynum said. “It’s tough to defend. That’s what the league is becoming about – playing fast and a lot of high pick and rolls with bigs finishing at the rim and spaced-out threes and fours.”
It might also be what the Pistons are becoming more and more about if their second unit continues to produce at or above the level of their starters and their coach continues shaking the tree.