New York — The new point guard is struggling to find his confidence, and the new coach still is trying to figure out how to piece together a puzzling lineup.
But luckily for the Pistons — and who would’ve guessed we’d be saying this after six-plus seasons and five head coaches? — they still have Rodney Stuckey to kick around.
And count on, as they did again Sunday in Brooklyn, riding the backup guard’s huge night off the bench to get past the struggling Nets, 109-97, at Barclays Center.
Just as he had in a win over the New York Knicks last week, Stuckey led the Pistons in scoring Sunday, finishing with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 17 in the fourth quarter, as the Pistons (5-8) pulled away from one of the league’s worst teams.
The Nets, playing without injured starters Deron Williams and Brooks Lopez, as well as Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry, have lost five in a row and eight of nine.
“Everybody in here is embarrassed,” rookie head coach Jason Kidd said after his 3-10 team was booed off the court at the end.
But the Pistons, coming off back-to-back losses to Atlanta, found themselves trailing by seven at the half Sunday, looking a bit lethargic defensively and not much better at the other end.
A day after admitting “I have no confidence,” Brandon Jennings, the Pistons’ point guard, came out and missed all six of his field-goal attempts in the first half. And combined with rookie backcourt mate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 1-for-7 start, the Pistons were playing right into the Nets’ hands.
“We just came in at halftime and Coach was saying, ‘Why are we playing halfcourt basketball?’” Stuckey said. “So we just tried to get stops, and then get out in transition and start running.”
Getting it done
They tried, and they succeeded, holding the Nets to 5-of-19 shooting in the third quarter as they turned the seven-point deficit into a 12-point lead.
Jennings finally got on the board with a fastbreak layup off a Josh Smith steal as the Pistons erased the lead with a 15-4 run to start the second half. And though his confidence isn’t restored, he at least managed to get to the free-throw line and finish with 14 points and 10 assists.
Greg Monroe had another quiet double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. And without Lopez to contend with — and with Kevin Garnett looking like he’s running on fumes — the Pistons had their way with 13 offensive rebounds and a 56-22 scoring advantage inside.
Much of that, though, was thanks to Stuckey, who consistently get into the lane and took over in the fourth, hitting 5-of-6 shots — he played all but 34 seconds in the quarter — to go with 7-of-8 from the line.
“He’s our go-to guy once he’s off the bench, there’s no doubt about that,” said Jennings, who finished 2-for-10 from the floor. “He’s a big spark. He can score, he’s really strong, and he also takes a lot of pressure off everybody.”
Stuckey hit an off-balance shot in traffic after the Nets had cut a 16-point lead to five on Joe Johnson’s eighth 3-pointer of the game with 3:18 left. Then Stuckey dished to Greg Monroe for a dunk with 2:16 left and made four free throws in the final minute to keep the Nets at arm’s length.
“Whenever a player is going on your team, why turn that water off?” Smith said. “We jumped on his back and he carried us.”
The real Stuckey?
It certainly helps that Stuckey doesn’t seem to be carrying the emotional baggage of his rollercoaster career with the Pistons. Sunday’s starring role came in front of former Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, now an assistant on Kidd’s staff here in Brooklyn. And while there’s certainly no love lost there — Stuckey and Frank clashed over his role and his minutes —Stuckey seems to be thriving under Cheeks.
“I’ve been telling you this since Day 1, but I’m just trying to come in and be that energy guy that we need off the bench,” he said. “They rely on me to score some baskets, so that’s what I’ve got to do. ...
“I mean, I try not to think about all that. Those things happen. It is what it is. I’m just trying to win games. Our goal is to make the playoffs, and we just can’t keep letting games slip away. We really needed this game.”
Now they need a few more, heading back to Detroit for a four-game homestand that features not a single opponent with a winning record.
“We let a couple games slip away,” Stuckey said. “But we know we’re right there.”
And at the moment, the Pistons are fortunate he’s here, too.