Pistons' Van Gundy era starts with a loss

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News
Stan Van Gundy suffered a loss in his first regular-season game as Pistons head coach.

Denver — The Stan Van Gundy era began how competitive games usually ended for the Pistons in previous years, no matter who was on the sideline.

Enough talent to win, and enough heart to compete -- but the little things were missing in the season opener as the Nuggets pulled away late in the fourth to win, 89-79, Wednesday at Pepsi Center.

The effect of a couple missing pieces surely didn't go unnoticed, as Greg Monroe's suspension and Jodie Meeks' injury limited them offensively. But the Pistons were gritty enough to have an early fourth-quarter lead, and they trailed by two with 3:18 remaining.

At that point, having just two Pistons playing well offensively came back to bite them, along with allowing the energetic Nuggets to crash the offensive glass. D.J. Augustin, who played more minutes than starter Brandon Jennings, was bottled up by the quicker, taller Alonzo Gee down the stretch.

"You have to find a way. There's gonna be times when you're not making shots and can't get an open shot," Augustin said. "When they put him on me, he made it tough for me. I still tried to run things and my teammates tried to get me open."

More pointedly, they couldn't keep Kenneth Faried from grabbing seven of his 17 boards after Nuggets misses, as he scored 22 to lead Denver in just 27 minutes. Nuggets centers Timofey Mosgov and Jusuf Nurkic combined for 18 boards.

Andre Drummond fouled out after Augustin's layup made it 79-77. Trying to keep Faried off the glass, Drummond finished with just 11 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes.

The Pistons didn't score another field goal until backup center Joel Anthony got an easy dunk with 33 seconds left and the game out of reach.

"Our rebounding totally broke down," Van Gundy said. "Wasn't much positive out there tonight. I thought we battled."

The Nuggets had 14 offensive rebounds, resulting in 20 second-chance points, cushioning their putrid 35-percent field-goal shooting. When you're playing dangerously for the better part of 40 minutes, controlling the glass is a must when you want to steal one on the road.

"Our guys can rebound," Van Gundy said. "We don't block people out. We just turn and go to the board. We have bad habits we're trying to break."

Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said before the game the plan was to leave Josh Smith open, and the law of averages worked out after Smith's hot start. He scored 25, but only 10 after the first quarter.

Smith made nine of 22 field-goal attempts, with five rebounds and three assists. He also was the primary defender when Faried did his damage.

It appeared to lull the Pistons into some false sense of security offensively, as most of his shots were off one pass and didn't include the ball movement that had become so prevalent in the preseason.

"You know, you don't have to shoot the ball every time. We just didn't move the ball tonight," Van Gundy said. "Our offense was really disappointing to me. Tonight we made virtually no passes. Whoever got the ball first shot it."

The Pistons shot just 37 percent from the field, as swingmen Kyle Singler, Caron Butler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — players who benefit from ball movement — combined to shoot 6-for-31.

"For whatever reason, we didn't get into our offense," Singler said. "There's certain times in the game where we can't take the first shot that looks good. You would like to see the ball move more."

Jennings said he was trying to do that in his limited time, but wasn't in any kind of offensive rhythm throughout. The lack of ball movement wasn't on him, as the ball never made its way back his way — or anyone else's after the initial pass.

He finished with four points and two assists in just 20 minutes, but at one point in the third quarter, he was the Pistons' leading rebounder.

"We really weren't moving the ball enough," Jennings said. "It was always one pass, one shot so I felt we needed to move the ball from side to side. It was a game they were trying to give us. We were right there."

He took his lack of playing time in stride when asked about it, saying: "A little surprising. Never happened before in my career, but hey, we gotta keep pushing through it. It's not my decision, I'm not the coach.

"He makes the decisions and we have to roll with it."