Minneapolis — We've seen the bad body language before, the avalanche of bad calls, leading to bad momentum, leading to disappointing Pistons blowouts in recent time.
Despite the Pistons making a 19-point comeback against the young Minnesota Timberwolves on the back of a veteran player who's seen it all, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy seemed to direct all his ire toward a group that, in his words, "were willing to let the game go."
"We dug that hole, we just had a talk about it in there," a deflated Van Gundy said after the Pistons fell to 0-2 on the season with a 97-91 loss to the Timberwolves at Target Center on Thursday.
"I mean we just absolutely melted down, hung our heads and basically the group on the floor was willing to let the game go, they were willing to let the game go."
The starting five of Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Kentavious Cadwell-Pope, Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond allowed the Timberwolves to blow open a one-point game at halftime to 11 in the blink of an eye, while Jennings and Drummond started barking at the officials before the lead ballooned to 19 minutes later, after a 27-5 run.
Van Gundy, clearly irked, pulled Jennings after a technical foul for D.J. Augustin and didn't turn his way again, either planting the seeds for a lineup change or trying to straighten Jennings out before the season goes along any further.
"That's the first real adversity we've hit this year and we failed the test badly," Van Gundy said. "It wasn't just Brandon. You can't put it on one guy. It was a collective meltdown and lack of fight and that's very disappointing more than anything else that I could possibly see as a coach."
Jennings, who played 20 minutes in the opener against Denver, played just 16 against Minnesota and tried his best to hide his disappointment. He asked the media members at his locker, "He didn't tell you why? He didn't tell you guys?"
When someone replied Van Gundy said Augustin was playing better, Jennings quipped, "Then he should start and I'll be the backup, if that's the case. That's all I got."
For clarity, Van Gundy said two games isn't a big enough sample size to make a change at point guard, but he sent the message by putting Jennings, who had six assists and one turnover in 16 minutes, on the pine again.
Augustin (20 points) and more specifically Caron Butler temporarily rescued the Pistons from their usual abyss to make it more than interesting. After missing his first three shots, Butler caught fire, hitting his next nine shots on his way to 24 points. Augustin scored 22, although he didn't shoot particularly well (6-for-18).
Step-back 3's, going to the offensive glass, Butler did it all, a welcome sight after going scoreless in the opener in Denver.
"Those guys fought, they showed some heart," Van Gundy said. "Caron made (nine) straight shots so it was an incredible performance."
A triple with 1:43 tied the game at 88, but on their next critical possession, the Pistons went to Drummond on the post while trailing by three, a peculiar secondary option considering Drummond's lack of polish there and the fact he was defended by Timberwolves bruiser Nikola Pekovic.
Pekovic had begun having his way with Drummond in that third quarter, and Drummond's jump hook was errant, again highlighting the need for Greg Monroe in situations like that.
"That wasn't what we were trying to get out of that, but that's what we got out of that," Van Gundy said. "It was a pick and roll with D.J., and we ended up throwing it into the post."
Veteran backup Mo Williams hit a runner on the next possession, and the Pistons didn't get any closer. Their defense after the first quarter was porous all around, allowing the Timberwolves to shoot 53 percent in the final three quarters.
Pekovic scored 17 with 11 rebounds while forward Thaddeus Young scored 19, including the go-ahead triple with 1:28 remaining in the fourth. He added five rebounds. The Pistons didn't get lucky with bad defense as was the case Wednesday, when the Nuggets shot just 35 percent, missing plenty of open shots.
And the Pistons, sans Butler, were equally anemic offensively for the second straight game. Drummond and Smith combined to shoot 10-for-30, with each mustering only one field goal after halftime.
Caldwell-Pope played 41 minutes and started 4-for-8 but finished missing four of his last five shots as the Pistons shot just 42 percent from the field, after 37 percent Wednesday.
"It was a little bit of frustration, but I think we conceded to calls that were being made," said Smith, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes. "The second unit came in and did a great job of getting the lead back. We just fell short at the end."
Said Van Gundy: "They played with determination and wanted to win the game. You hope some of those other guys, some of your starters, can gain some of that at some point."