November 3, 2010 at 9:57 pm

John Niyo

Four games in, Pistons already look like a team in crisis

Ray Allen of the Celtics drives against Ben Wallace of the Pistons as Ben Gordon, left, pursues in the first half. (Associated Press)

Auburn Hills — At least the Palace crowd had a reason to be lifeless.

You can't say the same for the team that came to play Tuesday — or didn't, as it turned out — as the Pistons dropped their fourth straight game to open a season that's already looking far too familiar.

Look, there's no shame in losing to the Boston Celtics, the defending Eastern Conference champs. But for a fan base that still remembers what it's like to have a good time, this 109-86 flop can't be viewed as anything other than shameful.

Use the injury-depleted roster as an excuse if you want, but there was no ignoring the drooped shoulders in a half-empty arena where some of the loudest cheers were reserved for the NFL stars in attendance, most notably Lions rookie Ndamukong Suh. (And how's that for a reversal of fortunes?) The Pistons might be up for sale to the highest bidder, but Tuesday night this looked more like a house in foreclosure. And afterward, coach John Kuester sure wasn't buying what his players were selling.

"No one's gonna feel sorry for you," Kuester said, searching for a diplomatic way to call his winless team out publicly.

"We have to collectively -- somewhere, somehow -- find another voice besides my own that is going to lead us and also have that passion," he added. "It can't be when things are going good. It has to be when things are rough."

And here's the scary part: It's going to get even rougher, starting tonight at Atlanta, when the Pistons will play the second game of a back-to-back with a lineup of nine healthy players.

When told he sounded a bit exasperated for a head coach after only four games, Kuester didn't exactly disagree.

"This game is played with passion," he said. "And you're in this game to win. So, yeah, four games in, I'm (peeved). I'm not happy. We want to win. I don't care who we put on the floor. … We will figure out a way to win. And that's the most important thing. We have 15 guys in that room — they shouldn't be happy. There's nothing to be happy about."

Getting their attention

If he was trying to get a rise of his players, it worked. But perhaps not in the way you'd like for a team that's lacking stability in so many different ways right now.

Tayshaun Prince, who got into it verbally with some hecklers behind the Pistons bench late in Tuesday night's loss, fired right back at his head coach when told about Kuester's postgame comments.

Lacking vocal leadership?

"That ain't the only thing that's lacking," said Prince, who finished with 10 points, one rebound and one assist against the Celtics. "(Kuester) could put it towards us and we could put it towards him. It can go either way. It starts with all of us. …

"He's right, but at the same time, it goes both ways. We can sit here and continue to get on each other and be vocal. But like I said, the right thing's got to come from him as well as us. It goes both ways. If he wants to say we've gotta be more vocal, he's got to do some things better, too. I mean, obviously, we're 0-4 so it ain't just the team. It's everybody."

He'll get no argument from the announced crowd of 15,313 -- cough, cough -- that was in attendance Tuesday night.

Poor approval numbers

On Election Day, the Pistons looked like poll watchers from the start. And when Kuester was forced to go to his bench -- or what's left of it -- it didn't get any better.

The Pistons -- minus Rip Hamilton (foot) and Will Bynum (hamstring) -- came out to start the second quarter with a lineup that featured Prince playing the point, matched up against the Celtics' Nate Robinson, who'd fit in one of Prince's shirt sleeves. But 3 minutes, two turnovers and one timeout later, that makeshift unit had been outscored 10-2, so Kuester -- still searching for answers -- went back to his bench again.

And again, these were the Celtics, a group that plays as well together as any in the NBA. But togetherness doesn't look to be a strong suit for this Pistons team right now, and if that doesn't change soon, something more drastic will have to.

Prince sure looked like a guy who'd rather be elsewhere -- and perhaps sounded like it afterward, too -- in a miserable first half, going 1-for-4 from the field with one rebound and two turnovers. But his performance was hardly the only issue, and even Kuester acknowledged it's "tough" to ask Prince play the point and "He is trying his butt off, so I have no problems with that."

But problems, he's got more than a few with this team.

By the end of the third quarter, the Celtics' Rajon Rondo had 15 assists -- he'd finish with 17 assists and no turnovers -- while the Pistons' entire team had 11. Boston led by 20, and that actually seemed kind.

When Kuester's skeleton crew cut the lead to 12 midway through the fourth quarter, the Celtics' Paul Pierce was understandably annoyed as he had to check back into the game, playfully yelling at the scorer's table, "I'm supposed to be gettin' my rest!"

Two weeks into the season, Pistons fans have to be thinking the same thing: Wake us when it's over.

john.niyo@detnews.com

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