Detroit narrowly trailed Boston all night Friday. The Celtics continually hit tough shots deep into the shot clock against a scrambling Piston defense.
Detroit gave Boston a good game before they pulled away for an 86-78 win. Rebounding (44-36) really turned out to kill them in that one.
The Pistons stuck with a small lineup for too long. The crucial stops they did get, they gave away as Boston corralled several offensive boards.
Sunday afternoon, the Pistons actually entered the fourth quarter of the Cleveland game leading 64-58. Cleveland, however, went on a long 15-2 run which propelled them to the 90-80 victory.
Miami, who is tied with the Pistons in the East, comes to Detroit Wednesday night.
While both contests were within the Pistons' reach, they also confirmed that there is a gap between DP and the elite teams of the Eastern Conference. But it isn’t, by any means, a huge gap.
What do the Pistons need to do to inch closer?
Find a Low-Post Presence
One element clearly missing from the Pistons’ offense is a low-post presence. Yeah, yeah—enter the Rasheed comment here.
'Sheed is taking quite a pounding this year, giving up pounds almost every night with this undersized lineup. They shouldn’t bother him too much, because you want to keep his head in the game. He is who he is.
But when a team is on a run like Cleveland’s 15-2 spurt in Sunday’s game, posting up and trips to the free throw line are how you stop the bleeding. Slow the game down.
Veteran big guys have to know how to do that.
Starting the fourth quarter with the lead, it’s a good idea to feed the post and hopefully get a couple early team fouls. That is smart basketball. MC might have to talk to Sheed about calling his number several times in a row at some stretch of the final quarter of games.
That might help the Pistons close out games. I think Sheed can get into that assassin role as incentive. We have to accept that he is not going to spend the evening in the paint. Let’s get over that.
Perhaps he can agree to set up shop for two to four straight minutes in the closing quarters—a compromise.
The Pistons are shooting terribly from the free throw line this year. That had been a strong area for the team in the Billups era.
Everyone on the team has struggled at times from the charity stripe. Needless to say, that must improve that if the Pistons seek to chase the Eastern Conference crown again.
Closing games has been the problem, and free throws are a major part of that.
Utilizing Allen Iverson
An article in the Detroit Free Press today talked about Iverson becoming the focus of the team’s offense. I don’t think that is necessarily the answer—no pun intended.
He and Stuckey should both continue to be aggressive with the basketball.
Curry still defaults to that small lineup too much. Too many times during the game this season, the Pistons have looked undersized. They get manhandled around and give up easy power baskets. Break out the teal uni’s!
The small ball really backfired against the champs because of the rebounding disadvantage. Boston got several extra possessions down the stretch.
Sure, Iverson and Hamilton can play together in stretches, but Iverson is the starter and Rip is the backup. They have to proceed as such.
During these closing quarters, the team needs to know what they are going to do and execute it more sharply. There seems to be some indecision. Twice in a row against the C’s on late game crucial possessions, Iverson was baseline screening for Rip as the play.
It looked very stagnant. Iverson’s not laying anybody out! Rip knows that. Neither of those possessions ended in a hoop. That just isn’t a good set. Curry has to have more certainty calling the game, especially with an inexperienced floor leader in point guard Rodney Stuckey.
Late-game execution has to get sharper.
The Pistons should play at a faster tempo. More possessions equal more shot attempts and layups. When Iverson gets in that open floor after turnovers, it is fun to watch.
Aaron Afflalo, Detroit’s best on-ball defender, didn’t play at all in the Boston game. While guard Rajon Rondo dribbled around the court running the show for the C’s, finishing the game with 12 dimes.
Curry has to find minutes to use Afflalo to stick Rondo and make the game harder for them. He controls the Celtic offense a lot. (I hope Afflalo sees some minutes against D Wade, who leads the league in scoring.)
Those few minutes in games can bolster our defense, and really help close the gap.
I don’t know what MC’s beef with Kwame Brown is, but I know he has a big body. The team could benefit from his two or three hard fouls a game. The bottom line is you can’t wear out Rasheed and Antonio McDyess all year long if we plan to run deep into the playoffs.
KB can set picks and play physically in there for five or 10 minutes a game. Make the young guy earn his check at least.
Finally, we need to see more defensive diversity from Curry, who himself was a defensive specialist. The Pistons seem to have trouble with particular pick and roll situations and matchups. You can't allow teams to keep beating you with it.
Why not force the offense into something else? You can dictate that with your defensive schemes.
How about a zone one possession or two for a little wrinkle? Or applying some full-court pressure with Amir Johnson’s arms everywhere? Or maybe a half-court trapping defense to close out some quarters?
Those types of things not only get the opposition out of their comfort zone on offense, they can also spark chemistry in your team. That is important as this bunch searches for an identity late into the season.
Pressing and running keeps guys involved.
Pistons fans aren’t used to being in the passenger seat of the Eastern Conference like this. But take solace that they are not tied up in the trunk. It is very foolish to bury the team this early in the season. (Drew Sharp is an idiot.)
These Pistons know they will make the postseason which will be a brand new start. There is a lot of talent in that locker room. They just have to keep working under the hood trying to get it running smoothly.
Then try to take over the wheel in April.