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Win or lose, fans will watch efforts like the one the Pistons gave against Indiana

In consecutive games, Brandon Knight (vs. Cleveland), Greg Monroe (vs. Boston) and now, Jonas Jerebko against the Pacers on Saturday have given three reasons to continue watching the Pistons this season. On Saturday, they even won.

The Pistons set an early tone by playing with toughness, contesting Indiana’s shots, running and making hustle plays and Jerebko, who finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, was the catalyst of that effort. It rubbed off on Monroe who, despite picking up two quick fouls on moving screens, kept himself on the court the rest of the game (unlike in the opener), finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Knight didn’t shoot the ball well, but he played under control. Rodney Stuckey bounced back from a terrible performance against Boston — 1-for-11 shooting — to score 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting. He and Knight combined for 13 assists and seven turnovers. (* Note: Stuckey’s turnover line looked much better until the final minute or so. He had just two turnovers until Indiana’s late pressure forced him into steals by Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough)

Interestingly, it was the young players, particularly the frontcourt, leading the charge while veterans played the supporting role, something that rarely happened last year. As we’ve seen, defense inside the paint has plagued the Pistons so far this season. Monroe and Jerebko were much better defensively against the Pacers, but both still give up a lot of strength to Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and David West. Thanks to veterans Ben Wallace and Jason Maxiell spelling the starters for short but productive defensive minutes, Hibbert, Hansbrough and West barely factored into Saturday’s game. The trio combined for 39 rebounds in the season opener. On Saturday, they combined for 15 rebounds. Maxiell actually gave his first productive minutes of the season with 6 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal and no turnovers in about 13 minutes.

Tayshaun Prince didn’t have a great game, but in a few second half stretches when the Pistons needed baskets, he loomed large. In the third quarter, he hit a running bank shot to push the Pistons lead to 13. Just a couple minutes later after an Indiana basket, he hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 14. With less than five minutes to go in the fourth and Indiana on a run that cut the lead to seven, Prince hit a three to push the lead back to 10.

Ben Gordon shot the ball well, didn’t over-dribble and for the third straight game, he finished with four or more assists.

But with Indiana making a furious rally in the final minute, down by six points and with the ball after a Paul George steal, it was again the Pistons’ young players putting things away. Jerebko stole the ball from Paul George. Prince missed a jumper with the shot clock running down, but Monroe tipped it in to give the Pistons an eight-point lead and put the game out of reach.

The game wasn’t significant simply because the Pistons got a much-needed win before embarking on a one of the toughest parts of the schedule they’ll face this season. It was important because in getting the win, they looked much different for the first time under Lawrence Frank than they did under John Kuester.

Young players played prominent roles. The guard rotation — with Stuckey coming out early in the first quarter to allow Knight to get into the game early — made sense. Despite the need for Wallace’s defense, Frank resisted the urge to play him too much (an urge Kuester could rarely resist) and limited Wallace to only 10 minutes. The ball moved. Players certainly made mistakes, but also looked to atone for those mistakes by getting back on defense and playing hard.

In short, the Pistons made progress, and not just because they won. Win or lose, this would’ve been the first game Frank would’ve been able to walk away from and reference as an important point when the young players started to ‘get it,’ the veterans started to buy in and as a whole, everyone looked to be figuring out their roles. The win is nice, but the other accomplishments are far more important to a rebuilding team. This team could still lose a lot of games, but as long as they lose playing as hard and as tough as they did against Indiana, fans will continue to buy in and watch.

Frontcourt dominance

Late update via MFMP from Detroit Bad Boys/the comments below:

After plenty of research, I found that only two other players in Pistons history have put up at least 19 points and 11 rebounds in a single game– Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. Twice in their careers, Laimbeer and Mahorn did what Jonas and Greg did tonight.

On December 8th, 1987, Rick Mahorn put up 20 points and 20 rebounds next to Bill Laimbeer, who scored 30 points and 14 rebounds. Over a month later, on January 22nd, 1988, Mahorn put up 19 points and 12 rebounds while Laimbeer recorded 21 and 14. And for the third time in franchise history, Monroe and Jerebko joined these Pistons greats with one of the three most collectively dominant frontcourt games Detroit fans have ever seen.

Great hustle, Mike. Your looking up obscure basketball stats on New Year’s brought a tear to my eye.

Austin Daye gets benched

One young player who didn’t figure prominently in Saturday’s game was Daye. After hitting 5-of-11 shots against Boston, I was hopeful Daye might be breaking out of his annual beginning of the year shooting slump. But against the Pacers, Daye played about six first half minutes, missed all three shots he attempted (two of them were blocked) and he turned it over once. He’s made just 5-of-22 shots on the season (23 percent) and he didn’t play in the second half. His minutes went to Damien Wilkins instead.

Wilkins didn’t fare much better, missing both of his shot attempts and getting a rebound and an assist. But if Daye doesn’t find his stroke, there’s really not a reason to play him. Wilkins isn’t an offensive threat, but he’s a more natural perimeter defender than Daye and if he comes in, plays solid defense (the Pistons held Pacers wings Paul George and Danny Granger to 6-for-20 shooting) and plays with the energy Frank is looking for, Daye could for the third straight year find himself buried on the depth chart early in the season.

His shot is too good for it to not come around at some point, but with Gordon entrenched in the starting lineup and Charlie Villanueva due back any time, Frank may find that he doesn’t need three offensive specialists in his rotation.

Speaking of Villanueva …

Villanueva’s suspension was over, meaning he actually could’ve played today. Frank said before the game that he didn’t know how much Villanueva would play tonight. Turns out, not at all. Frank said that Villanueva had sat out a practice and he also missed a preseason game tending to a personal matter. The Pistons are too thin up front to not pencil Villanueva into the rotation, but with the Jerebko/Monroe combo going so well and Maxiell playing solid off the bench, the Pistons didn’t have a need to rush him back in today.

Happy New Year!

Have fun out there tonight. Feel free to check back in throughout the evening and leave your surly comments from wherever you might be partying. Be safe folks, and thanks for reading this past year! We look forward to an even more interesting 2012 that hopefully includes less lockouts and player revolts. OK … some player revolts … just less.

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