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Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace missing from Detroit Pistons’ crunch time lineup in close loss to Utah Jazz

OK … so earlier today, I pointed out why I think it was unfair for Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to complain about a lack of adjustments in games against Charlotte and Phoenix in which the players as a whole clearly played with very little effort.

But after Monday’s close loss at Utah when the Pistons played very hard and well against a good team? That’s on coaching and coaching alone (well, a slight assist to the officials as well, but more on that in a minute).

The crunch time lineup for the Pistons was simply baffling.

First, with the Pistons down three and only :50 seconds remaining, the team took and missed 3-pointers on two of their next three possessions. Not only was their best 3-point shooter, Gordon, not the one who took those shots, he was not even in the game.

Gordon on the bench in the fourth quarter is nothing new. And on some nights, it’s the right decision. Occasionally, Gordon shoots the ball really poorly or doesn’t have a rhythm. Sometimes, Rip Hamilton plays a lot better than Gordon. On Monday, both played decent. But when one happens to shoot the three much better than the other career-wise, that should be the deciding factor for who is on the court in situations when the team needs a three.

The Pistons might not have needed a three at all, however, if the team’s best defensive player had been on the court a few seconds earlier. With the game tied at 93 and less than 1:30 remaining, Deron Williams beat Tayshaun Prince off the dribble and got in the lane near the free throw line, where his intention was clearly to pull up for his patented floater. Greg Monroe switched on Williams, but instead of closing out, he backpedaled, giving Williams a wide open look at one of his favorite shots. I’m not saying Ben Wallace being in he game would’ve changed whether or not the shot went in. But I feel pretty confident that it would’ve at least been contested.

The Pistons certainly have an unbalanced roster, and that is not Kuester’s fault. But how he uses the players he has often makes no sense. Monroe was playing at crunch time despite having a quiet game. Wallace had a solid game with eight boards in 22 minutes and he was certainly a more passable defender against the burly Utah frontline than Monroe. Yet once again, Wallace was absent in the fourth.

Gordon on the bench in the fourth has been a familiar sight to Pistons fans his entire career in Detroit. I mean, Gordon certainly has flaws in his game that have been dissected on this site and elsewhere. But isn’t part of the reason you sign Gordon to let him play crunch time? The man once single-handedly beat the Celtics in a playoff game. LeBron James can’t even say that. Prior to coming to Detroit, Gordon was considered one of the best crunch-time players in the league. He’s starting now, which is fine I guess, but Kuester is still using him in the exact same way he’s always used him.

Against Utah, it’s not even like the Pistons were using a traditional lineup, so Kuester realistically could’ve played both Hamilton and Gordon at the same time if he didn’t want to risk upsetting Hamilton by benching him in the fourth. They had Prince and Austin Daye in the game at the forward spots. Prince was guarding the point guard on most possessions. No one else was really guarding anyone. Gordon easily could’ve slid in for Daye in the final minutes. It’s not like Daye had a remarkable game or anything to justify his crunch time spot — he shot 2-for-8.

There’s simply no legit explanation for the weird lineup — Tracy McGrady, Hamilton, Prince, Daye and Monroe — that played a lot down the stretch for the Pistons. That was not the best offensive or defensive lineup the Pistons could’ve put on the court. And they didn’t defend well vs. Utah anyway, so since the game is close, why not go for the offense?

In my earlier critique of the comments Villanueva and Gordon made about the lack of adjustments, I want to make it clear that they are not necessarily wrong. My main point is that it’s hard to take criticisms seriously from anyone on the team when the effort is questionable.

But decisions like playing the lineup Kuester decided to play late in a game the Pistons played well enough to win is all the evidence anyone needs to explain why the team seems to not always play with effort. Kuester’s decisions to play that lineup were not based on production, since more productive players in the game were on the bench. They were not about strategy, since better shooters or situational defenders were sitting on the bench. They were simply baffling decisions that caused the Pistons to be dramatically overmatched as the game came to a close.

Bell’s shot was a two

Raja Bell hit what was called a three with :30 seconds left to put Utah up three. Replays clearly showed it was a two — Bell’s foot was on the line. Officials chose not to review the play, and the Pistons went for a three on two of their next three possessions. It’s possible had that shot been called a two, the late-game strategy would’ve been different. Other factors contributed to the outcome, but that was a big missed call.

McGrady and Prince were fantastic

The stat lines speak for themselves. Prince continues to have a great rebound after a slow start to the season. He’s playing with pride and hopefully, for his sake and for Detroit’s future, he’s playing himself onto another team’s roster at the trade deadline. Early in the season, Prince was visibly unhappy and seemed like the Piston most likely to be the most vocally disruptive and unhappy player on the team. Instead, he’s turned his attitude around, he’s been largely positive in his comments to media and his on-court demeanor has improved drastically. He’s doing exactly what a good veteran player in a losing situation should — quietly, professionally playing well and consistently whether his teammates are following suit or not.

McGrady, meanwhile, has more than made his case that he should be the Pistons’ starting point guard for the foreseeable future. He’s the team’s best playmaker and he was just one rebound shy of a triple double against the Jazz. I found it interesting on the postgame show on Fox Sports Detroit that Mateen Cleaves, who is normally the opposite of critical, emphatically made the case that the Pistons are just much better with McGrady at the point guard spot. Now Cleaves didn’t say anything in particular about Rodney Stuckey, but he didn’t have to. The Pistons are unbalanced and could lose a lot of games this year regardless of who plays, but if the organization is as committed to winning now as has been maintained, then McGrady is simply the best player at that position on the roster.

Monroe gets a dunk

Monroe’s ability to finish, or lack thereof, has been a big topic of conversation this year. In traffic, he often looks hesitant and ends up putting up soft shots inside that are routinely blocked or miss their mark.

His only bucket against Utah came when he caught a pass in the lane and went up against two Utah defenders and finished with a dunk. I haven’t seen Monroe dunk much period this season, but I’m pretty sure that was his first dunk in traffic as a Piston. It even seemed to catch Greg Kelser and George Blaha off-guard. Hopefully it’s a sign Monroe is getting stronger around the basket.


  • Jan 4, 20111:10 am
    by Jeremy


    I want to root for this team to win, and I do, but then they lose and I can’t help but think, “lottery win”.
    To me this looked like a reasonably well played game by both teams. I thought the defense was pretty good most of the time on both sides as was the offense. Fortunately I blacked out during the early second period. Meh. Pretty decent basketball for the Pistons of the last few years.
    The silver lining to your lineup cloud is meaningful minutes for two players we want to develop. You can learn a lot from losing, right?
    The play from McGrady and Prince was nice and I think, as you say, Tayshaun has been impressive this year when it looked like he might be a problem. But trades just seem so unlikely right now, with the ownership situation. I’d kind of like to see Tracy stick around, but I think he’ll bolt the minute he gets the chance. He likes to hang out with the other superstars.
    I’d be more irritated by the Bell shot, but hey – lottery win. I’ll raise my expectations when the team gets sold. Just doesn’t seem reasonable or logical to expect much at this point.
    Also, I would feel better about things if Joe Dumars wouldn’t talk. “What you do is what I did. Because I do what you do. When we play good and people score and stuff, that’s what I was imagining when I put this team together.” Right? All I wanted for Christmas was a frontcourt, Joe.

  • Jan 4, 20111:31 am
    by Jeremy


    Coach Sloan’s comment made me chuckle:
    “That was a really difficult game. They’re a hard team for us to guard, and I thought they hung in there and fought all night long. Fortunately, Raja Bell made a three-point shot, as everybody knows, and his free throws were huge. Deron Williams made a big drive to the basket, and his free throws were big. So to come out with a win, you have to be real happy.”

    And Paul Millsap’s MVP for the game? A worn down Richard Hamilton…
    “I think we wore them down. We wore them down, chasing them off of screens and they missed a few open shots. Richard Hamilton missed a wide-open shot that actually cost them the game. We came back and executed and pulled out with the lead.”

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Detroit Locksmith. Detroit Locksmith said: Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace missing from Detroit Pistons' crunch time …: Gordon on the bench in the fourth has bee… http://bit.ly/el5kzj [...]

  • Jan 4, 20112:46 am
    by Laser


    this team is horrendous. how can they possibly go on without some kind of personnel move?
    mark champion asked vinces ellis and goodwill at halftime if he thought kuester would stick with t-mac as the starting PG when stuckey was back. they gave the obvious answer to such a stupid question, but the stated reason (i think from goodwill) was that it hinged on t-mac’s ability to guard opposing PGs, but that’s a moot point as long as you have ben gordon, who can’t guard most shooting guards anyways. t-mac in his fifth start, at half strength against a great team, falls one assist shy of stuckey’s career high and one rebound shy of a triple double. but there’s no question in anyone’s mind who’s starting at PG until the day he dies (in dumars’s loving arms, probably). and people wonder why i can’t root for this team.

  • Jan 4, 20113:03 am
    by Jo-El


    It’s so hard hearing news about how bad the team is. But it’s true. I was also baffled by the decision not to go with Gordon in the final minute. Is it an “appease Rip” thing to let him come off the bench but keep him in the end?
    I just hope some personnel (whether a trade or a coaching change) happens soon to create a new atmosphere. This season is not yet lost but things have to be shaken up. That all hinges on the ownership status though.
    Pistons, please resolve the ownership already so the team can really move forward.

  • Jan 4, 20113:21 am
    by jack


    Tmac is the best player on this period. He is the most creative player and offensively talented. His allround surpasses everyone on this team and  probaly Prince has a case of being in similar company

  • Jan 4, 20116:06 am
    by gmehl1977


    Just to make things worse with all the Stuckey bashing…news flash
    Also i couldn’t help but laugh when listening to the Utah radio commentary of today’s game. One of the commentators was assessing Charlie V and explaining how he is what they call in basketball talk ‘a stretch 4′. Then the other commentator followed up with that is what they call power forwards with no post game…i was LMFAO. To Charlie’s credit though he took Millsap to to hoop a couple of times and did pretty well down low so they backed off him a little.

  • Jan 4, 20116:24 am
    by jack


    Youthink that was bad their TVguys were just downright aweful. They are not proffesional. They are highly biased and dont seem to scout oposition teams all that well.

    They were talking about in the first half tmac was done and in the second half they were like well ” ok he maybe not fully done just yet”. Harping is a disgrace. He was a dirty hack as a player and has’nt improved much now either.He was taking every shot he could at bashing tmac.

  • Jan 4, 20117:24 am
    by jk281


    I missed most of the game tonight, only saw the last 3 min, but just looking at the boxscore and seeing Monroe -11 and Ben +5, in a close game, those are huge numbers, which makes it even more puzzling as to why Monroe was in at the end. And why Ben didnt come in when Charlie V fouled out.

    Kuester leaves a rookie big man to battle Al Jefferson AND Paul Milsap all by himself in a tight game on the road? Especially strange considering Monroe didnt even seem to be having a good night.

    On the nights Monroe has it going, he is usually planted on the bench for the end of the game, but now when he’s struggling, you put him out there agains 2 all-star caliber men all by himself with a bunch of G/F’s and no other bigs? SMH

    Usually, I’m seeing Ben with a -11, and Monroe +5, and questioning why Ben was out there at the end having played so poorly the rest of the game.

    Its almost like the better you play, the less min you get, and the worse you play, the longer you get to stay on the court, in this F’d up system Kuester is running.

    I’m always glad when Monroe gets minutes, and I’m sure that dunk at the end will have more benefit long-term than just getting 1 regular season win, but I highly doubt that was Kuesters thinking when he decided to go with that frontcourt lineup.

    The angered Lakers are likely going to mop the floor with us tonight, after getting booed off their court Sunday, and looking to get their season back on track. I recall a similar situation a litle over a month ago when we visited the struggling 9-8 Heat and got dismantled. The Heat are now 27-9 and have lost 1 game since. Good teams are using the Pistons to get their seasons back on track just like they used to do with the Lions in the NFL, lol.

  • Jan 4, 20118:28 am
    by detroitpcb


    Daye was in there for CV, who had fouled out. Are you telling me that Ben Gordon can play the 4 and guard Milsap?

    Gordon actually played very good defense on Williams and i thought he should have been on the floor instead of Rip.

    But the key was that stupid timeout Q took with 20 seconds left on the shot clock after Prince had the ball poked out of bounds. Why? There was no reason for it. And then they did not have a TO to set up a final three point attempt. And why no fuss about Bell’s three? That is what a coach is supposed to do – raise a fuss when his guys get screwed. The play was reviewable.

    And give Austin Daye credit for three big defensive plays down the stretch – two poke away steals, one block, and two crucial free throws. it was good to see the kid in the game during winning time.

  • Jan 4, 20118:38 am
    by detroitpcb


    The whole problem is still that Rip and ben Gordon are redundant. As laser always says – Rip’s extension and Gordon’s signing were baffling moves by Joe D.

    I think it is obvious why he signed CV – who is playing very well on a fairly consistent basis. And Stuckey looks like he could be a great change of pace to T-Mac coming off the bench at the point or at the two. But if both Rip and Gordon are still on the team after the deadline, i promise i will not watch another game.

  • Jan 4, 20118:46 am
    by Patrick Hayes


    “Daye was in there for CV, who had fouled out. Are you telling me that Ben Gordon can play the 4 and guard Milsap?”
    Did I say that? Gordon goes in at shooting guard. Rip slides to three. Prince slides to four. I don’t care who guards who, honestly. It’s not like Daye can guard Milsap either.

  • Jan 4, 20118:48 am
    by Patrick Hayes


    Love that comment from Milsap. You don’t typically see players openly say things like that in postgame quotes, although I don’t think that miss alone cost them the game. It certainly didn’t help though.

  • Jan 4, 20118:49 am
    by Patrick Hayes


    It’s not like Rip had a bad game either. But that’s the thing — even in the rare instance that Hamilton and Gordon are both always on, Kuester will typically have to choose one or the other. Personally, since he was going with a small lineup anyway, I think he could’ve played both last night. It’s not like the lineup he chose to close the game with was going to defend well anyway.

  • Jan 4, 20118:55 am
    by Patrick Hayes


    In fairness, most people around the league who don’t follow the Pistons don’t realize how well McGrady has played. Remember, McGrady looked really bad the only times he was on the court the last couple years.
    We see him on a game-to-game basis and see how he’s improved really each week since he’s been in Detroit. They just look at his stats, which still don’t really stand out overall, and assume he’s not playing well. It’ll take some time for the rest of the league to realize, but if he keeps doing what he did against Utah, the rest of the league will understand that he can still play.

  • Jan 4, 20118:59 am
    by Patrick Hayes


    “Good teams are using the Pistons to get their seasons back on track just like they used to do with the Lions in the NFL”
    Wow. Never thought I’d see the day when the Pistons were compared to the Lions and there was really nothing I could do to argue the point.

  • Jan 4, 20119:11 am
    by Patrick Hayes


    Who wonders why you can’t root for this team? If they don’t know why by now, I guess they will never know.
    As for the whole “defending opposing PGs” argument made by Ellis/Goodwill, that makes no sense. I think Stuckey is an adequate defender when he wants to be. But when they start three other guys who are below average defenders (Gordon, Prince, V) and a center in Wallace who is an OK post defender still but doesn’t protect the rim much anymore, what the hell does it matter if your point guard defends OK?
    The Pistons will never ever win games by playing great defense. If they win at all, it will be because their shooters are on and their offense is flowing. It makes no sense not to start the guy who runs their offense very clearly better than anyone else on the team.
    For a guy allegedly being judged on his ability to win games, Kuester just makes baffling decisions. I don’t understand how anyone, particularly beat writers who watch this team more than and closer than anyone else, can think that defense is in any way relevant when there is not a single guy on the roster who anyone would mistake for a defensive stopper.

  • Jan 4, 20119:14 am
    by vic


    another bad decision was the decision to bench TMac for the 1st half of the 4th quarter, and put Stuckey in.

    TMac was dominating the game and was just about ready to turn on his offense and finish out his triple double, then Kue puts in Stuckey, and our momentum stops.

    They’ve got to have a better awareness of who’s hot.

  • Jan 4, 201111:10 am
    by brgulker


    Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
    If Kuester doesn’t find important minutes for Daye and Monroe, the Pistons media damns. If Kuester plays Daye and Monroe in important situations, and they make mistakes like young players do, the media damns him.
    I don’t fault Q for playing Monroe and sitting Ben Wallace. Ben Wallace isn’t the future big man of this franchise. Monroe might be, and he’s gotta learn. At the end of the day, this game didn’t matter, and neither will the outcome of the rest of the games this season. What matters is whether or not we can develop a group of players that can become the next “core.”
    And as much as I love Ben Wallace, he’s not part of it.

  • Jan 4, 201111:44 am
    by Patrick Hayes


    OK, Ben Wallace isn’t part of the team’s future, but is Kuester? Not if he keeps losing games.
    My arguments are not so much based on what I want to happen as a fan. As a fan, I want to see Monroe and Daye get big minutes so they can either develop or the team can figure out if they’re good.
    But as someone covering the team? I’m just trying to evaluate them by their own standards. That standard, by everything everyone from Dumars to Kuester to the players has publicly said, is winning. I have no reason to believe that Kuester is being evaluated by how well he develops Daye/Monroe even at the expense of letting close games slip away.
    If the stated goal is to win games and try to make the playoffs, and I’ve heard no other goal mentioned by Dumars, Kuester’s lineup decisions were a clear failure last night. You don’t win games by playing overmatched young players when you have better alternatives available, and Wallace and Gordon were clearly better alternatives if the goal was to win that game.
    Like I said, from a personal standpoint, I’m fine with how it played out. I have no interest in seeing Miami sweep Detroit in the first round by double digits in each game.
    But from the team’s perspective, playoffs = revenue, so I understand why they’d want to make it. And until Dumars says “I don’t care if we lose as long as Daye and Monroe are getting better” I’m going to continue evaluating the team in large part from a wins/losses perspective. If the goal is to win and decisions are made that make a loss more likely, then yeah, it’s fair game to write about that, even if I don’t ultimately hate the fact that the young guys are playing.

  • Jan 4, 201112:09 pm
    by Laser


    @hayes: +1 essentially.
    i mean, you can put out an average defensive unit with, say: stuckey, rip, tayshaun, max and big ben, but that unit has proven its uselessness, and your subs at every position would be a downgrade. still, you gotta defend a little. you can’t just throw your hands in the air and expect to win games by hitting shots… especially with so little in the way of playmaking and post play.
    however, i agree with the vinces that t-mac just can’t guard hardly any point guards (a highly important position to impede if you can), and as long as he’s in the game at his current level of mobility, i’m going to cross-match defensively. but as long as you have ben gordon on the roster, this won’t be a problem; they’ll usually cross-match defensively anyways so he doesn’t have to guard a guy twice his size. so the real litmus test should be if he can check shooting guards. and as long as your small forward can guard shooting guards, that won’t be a problem either, since t-mac is big enough to guard the three. so it’ll be a cross-match fest when t-mac is in the game, but well worth it for the brilliant playmaking.

  • [...] Patrick Hayes at Piston Powered says Raja Bell had his toe on the three-point line when he canned a triple that broke a tie with 50 seconds left in Utah’s win over Detroit on [...]

  • Jan 4, 20116:02 pm
    by gmehl1977


    brgulker has brought up exactly what i was thinking. It would of been great to of won the game yesterday but the big picture was that the young guys were in there in crunch time and that has way more value than a team that is going no where this year. Yeah i would of woke up feeling good this morning that we beat a pretty good NBA team but heck i still woke up this morning feeling good that those young guys were in there learning and getting there confidence up. I am not also convinced that all the vets could do much better than the young guys anyway. I am not condoning losing by any means but am more afraid that if we play our vets too much trying to win at all cost (where 11-23 btw) it will stunt the growth of our young guys which will lead to more losing next year and the year after that. So if that means young guys play in crunch time now and we lose because of it then so be it. Winning games at any cost (by playing the vets) will just be a 2 steps forward 3 steps back method. The pistons for way too long have stunted the growth of there young guys and need to realize that while you need them to work and earn their minutes you need to reward them with minutes too.
    God must hate the pistons because if we had of lost 1 more game last year we would of been working with a line up that more than likely would of included DeMarcus Cousins instead of trying to sell the farm to trade for him. Still i am glad that they didn’t sell out and lose on purpose cause that just isn’t the right way to play!

  • Jan 5, 20111:58 am
    by Laser


    “have,” not “of.” would have.

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