Washington, D.C. — John Wall was a blur, headed down to the other end to set the Verizon Center crowd off with a dunk, especially after going behind the back to elude Brandon Jennings.
But he didn’t account for the other blur fearlessly flying down the floor, as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope soared in to hush the crowd with a clean block.
“It was a chance so I just tried it. I guess he didn’t see me. I saw the ball and went and got it,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I wasn’t too far behind it, he was going up and I was at the top of the key. It was a good block.”
It didn’t win the game, as there was still 3:11 remaining in a close game that hadn’t always been so, but it exemplified a resilience that hadn’t been seen from the Pistons in quite awhile.
Caldwell-Pope’s stripping of Martell Webster on a baseline dribble with 14 seconds remaining sealed a 104-98, come-from-behind victory Saturday night, preventing the improved Wizards from getting over the .500 mark.
Josh Smith led the Pistons with 22 points and eight rebounds while Rodney Stuckey scored 20 off the bench, as their second unit helped lift a lifeless team that looked well on its way to a second straight loss after Friday’s embarrassment against the Utah Jazz.
Wall led the Wizards with 34 points, hitting 15 of his 23 shots, but didn’t get enough help, especially from his backcourt mates.
“We made plays down the stretch, good defensive plays and we scored. We made our foul shots,” Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said. “Clearly last night wasn’t one of our better games.”
The Pistons have won three of four, with all three wins coming due to heady play down the stretch in the fourth quarter, which has clearly been a problem through the first 40 games.
Caldwell-Pope shot just two for 10, but made the hustle plays that helped win the game, including putting Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal on punishment, as the sharpshooter missed 12 of his 14 shot attempts.
“He got on Beal, too, very well,” Cheeks said. “That block down the stretch and two or three steals. When you’re guarding Beal you gotta keep the pressure on because he can break the game open easily.”
The Wizards led by 10 early behind the surging Wall, who led the Wizards to 69-percent shooting in the first quarter.
The Pistons looked quite lifeless and lost, no one more so than Smith, who missed all six of his field goal attempts in the first half before turning it on after halftime, a stark contrast from the Pistons’ last visit to the District, when he was benched in the second half.
Smith turned it around, scoring 20 of his 22 after the half, most on jump shots.
The Pistons outscored the Wizards 33-22 in the third to temporarily erase the post-halftime demons and take a 79-76 lead into the fourth.
“It was something I had to build within myself. Shots weren’t falling for me,” Smith said. “I had to stay aggressive and it was able to go down for me in the second half.”
The Wizards failed to put the Pistons away when they were reeling, as the second unit of Kyle Singler, Stuckey and Will Bynum did enough to keep the Pistons competitive before halftime. Singler got a few floor burns lunging for loose balls, while Bynum and Stuckey fearlessly attacked the basket until momentum turned.
“We stayed with it. It probably would’ve been a (snowball) affect, where 10 would’ve went to 15, and 15 to 20 so we stayed positive,” Smith said. “The bench guys gave us great energy. We did (well) trying to finish it out.”
The bench trio scored 15 of the Pistons’ 24 second-quarter points, as they entered the half trailing by seven. Cheeks ditched his big lineup and the Pistons played faster, more frenetic and began to chip away at the lead.
“Our second unit was good, the small lineup that got in, created some turnovers and get in the open court,” Cheeks said. “Putting the pressure inside the paint. Then in the third and fourth our starters played well.”
With the score tied at 88, Stuckey drove baseline on Martell Webster for a floater and three-point play that put the Pistons up to stay — despite Wall charging late, scoring 13 in the last 12 minutes.
After bemoaning his team’s lack of effort on Friday, Stuckey put his heart where his mouth was for his second straight strong outing. Greg Monroe scored 12 with 10 rebounds and Andre Drummond had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
“We took our time, executed and got stops, that’s what we did in the fourth quarter,” Stuckey said.