Auburn Hills — The Pistons blew another game they had no business losing because they lost focus of what pushed them to the brink of beating the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers.
Coach Maurice Cheeks wanted to blame offensive rebounding for the Pistons’ 111-109 overtime loss. I won’t argue with him. But the Pistons abandoned one of the old rules of the NBA. Do not abandon the hot hand.
During critical stretches they stopped going to Josh Smith, who played his best game as a Piston. Instead of watching Smith add to his season-high 31 points on 13-for-17 shooting, we got to see Rodney Stuckey floaters and Brandon Jennings dribbling between his legs and launching moon shots that clanked off the iron.
The Pistons fumbled an 88-76 lead over the last 9½ minutes because they treated Smith like the fat kid who was picked last to play.
Bad night for Jennings
With a chance to win the game tied 99-99 with 30.8 seconds remaining in regulation, Stuckey dribbled down the clock and floated a brick. Jennings felt it was his night to win the game even though he was 6-for-16 from the field. He played out of control most of the night and failed as a point guard.
His job is to make teammates better, recognize who is hot, and go to him. He looked more like a guy auditioning for the Harlem Globetrotters.
“We should have kept going to him and let him cool down,” guard Chauncey Billups said of Smith. “Maybe he would have stayed hot. During the course of a game things change. But I agree. We should have rode Smooth the whole way.”
You cannot totally blame Cheeks because he screamed for his players to go to Smith during the game. They ignored him and turned the final moments and overtime into playground basketball.
The Trail Blazers went to their hot man. In the fourth quarter and overtime LaMarcus Aldridge was 3-for-8 with eight points. Smith got one shot, made it and was fouled. Every time Smith touched the ball in the post in the second half something good happened.
Once he passed to Andre Drummond, who was fouled. Once he slipped the ball to Jennings, who drove to the hoop and passed to Greg Monroe for an easy bucket. The dude was on fire, but he got as many shots during crunch time as Chuck Nevitt would.
Let me go back to the words of former Pistons coach Chuck Daly, who lived on milking players until they ran dry.
“If it ain’t broken why go somewhere else?” he would say.
Daly’s philosophy was it is up to the opponent to figure out how to stop something. He did not give them a break when a man was hot. He once ran the same play eight straight times against Utah, called timeout and ran it a ninth time. He screamed at players who abandoned his philosophy. Cheeks tried but did not hammer the urgency enough. This turned into a stunning display of dumb basketball.
Smith couldn't be stopped
The Pistons had a major player on the ropes and let them off the hook. Now they have to travel to Indiana to play the Pacers and their NBA-best record tonight. Good luck with that one.
“I agree with you he had a great game,” Cheeks said. “Maybe we can do a better job of getting the ball in his hands especially when he has a great game like this.”
Smith was diplomatic after the game.
“I am a team basketball player and whatever the team runs on offense I try my hardest to be able to run where I am supposed to be and play as hard as I can,” Smith said. “I have a lot of confidence in my teammates. Rodney has hit some big shots down the stretch. We made some plays but we just didn’t make enough to win the ball game.”
Smith said he felt he dominated the entire game. And he did.
I hope he pulls some teammates aside and tells them a thing or two. You do not waste a night like this. The Trail Blazers were at a loss to guard him. They tried 6-foot-8 forward Nicolas Batum, 6-5 guard Wesley Matthews and even Aldridge.
The only ones to stop the Smith were the Pistons. He was demolished by neglect.
Yes, the Pistons lost because they could not keep the Trail Blazers off the offensive boards. But they also lost because they failed to feed the hot man.