The Pistons finally returned home from their grueling West Coast road trip to face Carmelo Anthony and the struggling New York Knicks. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope found himself in the starting lineup due to the absence of Will Bynum and Chauncey Billups, and looked to make the most out of the opportunity. With the depth of this roster, KCP has often found himself to be the odd man out, lucky to play more than five minutes.
The Pistons led by a slim two-point margin after the first quarter of play. KCP did not disappoint, scoring seven points in the frame. The Knicks were able to turn things around in the second quarter, charging out to a six-point lead halfway through the second. Italian sharpshooter Luigi Datome knocked down a three-pointer with three seconds left to tie the game going into halftime. That was the only shot he made in the game.
With under four minutes to go in the third quarter, the Pistons went on a seven-point run, capped off by a Kyle Singler three. The Knicks could not cut into the Pistons’ lead, and trailed 71-63 going into the final quarter of play. Rodney Stuckey scored five points in a row for the Pistons to open up the fourth quarter. They eventually extended their lead to 15 before the Knicks were forced to call timeout. A pair of free throws by J.R. Smith brought the Pistons’ lead down to five with 3:34 remaining. But that was as close as the Knicks would get, eventually losing 92-86.
Rodney Stuckey had a phenomenal game coming off the bench, scoring 21 points on 8-14 shooting. He’s been playing surprisingly well this season, only increasing his value should the Pistons decide to trade him before the deadline. Josh Smith added 19 points while taking 19 shots. The fearsome Pistons frontcourt of Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond combined for a beastly 48 points and 27 rebounds. KCP finished with 13 points.
Carmelo Anthony did all he could to keep his Knicks in the game, leading all scorers with 25 points. J.R. Smith pitched in with 18 points off the bench in the losing effort. The Pistons had not previously beaten the Knicks since 2011.
The following night, the Pistons headed down to Atlanta to face Josh Smith’s former team, the Hawks. It was a defensive battle in the first quarter, with Detroit only able to score 13 points. Yet they found themselves merely down by two. Then someone flipped a switch, and the Pistons scored 33 in the second quarter. Stuckey scored 10 points in the frame, and it appeared as though both teams forgot how to play defense. Detroit took a 46-43 lead into halftime.
The third quarter was just as entertaining, with both teams trading buckets and neither able to pull away. With less than two minutes remaining in the third, Lou Williams made a three-pointer to give the Hawks a two-point lead that they would not relinquish. Atlanta went on a seven-point run midway through the fourth that the Pistons simply could not come back from. They eventually fell 95-83.
Monroe had a disappointing night, scoring only seven points and grabbing four rebounds. Smith was ice cold as well, shooting 5-15 from the field and 0-4 from behind the arc for 11 points. Brandon Jennings had to do most of the work himself, scoring 21 points. He had to take 21 shots to get there, however. That number is way too high for any point guard, but the Pistons knew what they were getting when they signed Jennings in the offseason. Stuckey continued his hot streak with 18 points off the bench.
The Hawks shot an impressive 50.7% from the field, something that Coach Cheeks will definitely have to address with his players on defense. Big man Paul Millsap scored 18 points, but was a virtual non-factor on the boards. The Hawks as a team had only five offensive rebounds, compared to 15 for the Pistons. Detroit will get another shot at Atlanta on Friday when they return to the Palace for a rematch.
The Pistons are only 1-5 on the road, giving them a 4-7 record overall. The fans might not be happy, but if the season ended today, the Pistons would have the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Prediction: I know, I know, it’s early, but Detroit is right in the thick of it, and as the season goes along, they will improve. The chemistry between Jennings and the big men will improve, and they will start winning more close games.
Blake Froling is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports