Philadelphia — Desperation.
You could almost smell it from the Pistons sideline after the Philadelphia 76ers jumped on them early Friday, a game that looked like Detroit’s seventh straight loss.
Going down 19-4 against a team that had lost its last two games by a total of 47 points tends to evoke some kind of emotion and for the Pistons, it brought out the best from Josh Smith.
He led with his energy and his team actually followed suit, as the Pistons caught up to the 76ers, then ran past them in the fourth quarter, winning 114-104 at Wells Fargo Arena for their first win of 2014, and perhaps providing a blueprint for the future.
Smith did take 23 shots to score 22 points but filled up the scoresheet when nobody was doing much of anything, with 13 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks and four steals in 42 minutes, including challenging numerous dunk attempts.
It looked to be an embarrassment at first, as the 76ers capitalized on every Pistons turnover, getting out on the break with rookie Michael Carter-Williams making Brandon Jennings look as if he were running in quicksand. For a while, the 76ers actually were on pace to score 192 points.
“I was frustrated because we were on a six-game losing streak,” Smith said. “It was disheartening to see us not come out with desperate energy in order to get off this skid.”
The skid didn’t continue because Kyle Singler was all over the floor, Smith defended on the perimeter and Andre Drummond finally realized he’s nearly 7 foot tall with enormous leaping ability. Despite his numerous defensive lapses, he grabbed 12 rebounds and added six of the Pistons’ 14 blocked shots.
Singler scored 16 points with eight rebounds off the bench and three assists in 35 minutes, playing more minutes than Drummond and Greg Monroe.
“(Singler’s) impact was just energy,” coach Maurice Cheeks said. “Defensive rebounding, offensive rebounding, cutting to the rim and other guys fed off it. Will (Bynum) came into the game with some energy.”
Bynum helped the Pistons pull away in the fourth quarter, scoring nine in the 12 minutes, often on the floor with Jennings as co-point guards, a different look for the Pistons. Jennings, who handed out six assists, had 19 points, going 4-of-6 from 3-point range and sinking 7 of 8 free throws.
“I’ve been desperate. Speaking for me, I’ve been desperate,” said Bynum, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds in a season-high 33:56.
“I think that’s part of the problem, we’re getting kind of comfortable with it. That’s not an option. We’re trying to win right now and to do that you have to play with a sense of urgency.”
Smith was the early catalyst for urgency, when his team looked ready to pack it in. Suddenly things started happening, aided by the 76ers, who played recklessly enough to let the Pistons back in.
The 76ers went to a small lineup, apparently unaware the Pistons haven’t had much success when going big, and it played right into the Pistons’ hands.
It forced the Pistons to play faster and smaller. They rarely had Smith, Drummond and Monroe on the floor at the same time to match up against outside shooting big man Spencer Hawes (16 points, 10 rebounds) and slashing Thaddeus Young (22 points).
“It was more a function of tonight,” Cheeks said. “It was not a lot of chances to play three bigs. With those guys picking and popping we had to have guys who could get to the shooters.”
All three Pistons bigs had double-doubles. Drummond had 11 points and 12 rebounds and Monroe had 15 points and 10 rebounds. He made five of his six shot attempts.
Smith’s two triples cut the lead to 12 in the first quarter, after which he proceeded to be a shot-blocking machine at the rim, triggering a fast break, and the Pistons actually hit some perimeter shots.
The third quarter finally became the Pistons’ friend, as Jennings hit back-to-back threes to give the Pistons a 70-69 lead and complete their comeback. They actually outscored their opponent, 29-18.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went to guarding Carter-Williams and made life tough for him, along with Bynum, who was in the rookie’s airspace as Carter-Williams missed 11 of his last 15 shots (21 points, four assists overall).
Cheeks didn’t like what he saw from Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey played just three minutes in the first half and Cheeks never looked his way again.
Cheeks went with the players giving him energy and went to unconventional setups as his team finally said enough to losing, staging an improbable comeback they hope to build on.
“It didn’t matter where this win came from, we just needed to get back on the winning side of things,” he said.