Nets slice through Pistons defense, spoil Palace opener

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News
Pistons' Kyle Singler defends the Nets' Joe Johnson in the third quarter.

Auburn Hills — Get the ball to the hot hand, or get it to the guy who can't guard you.

Those are often the simple rules of basketball, from grammar school to the NBA — and Kyle Singler had a red dot on his back in the Pistons' home opener Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets.

First it was Nets guard Joe Johnson, then Deron Williams having his way with the third-year swingman, spoiling Stan Van Gundy's home debut, 102-90, at The Palace.

It wasn't just Singler who got a taste of Johnson's smooth onslaught. Everybody who stepped up got his share.

Johnson delivered the knockout blow before a stunned Palace crowd that finally said "enough" after his baseline jumper over Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's outstretched arms finished a 15-2 run after the Pistons had taken a brief 84-83 lead.

"Joe's big as hell. That's a big, strong guy," Van Gundy said. "We missed a couple double-team opportunities right after we took the lead. Then after that we didn't. He was shooting 18-foot jumpers over the top of them. We should've done something differently, quicker."

As Johnson trotted down the sideline after scoring the last of his game-high 34 points, boos began to lightly circulate through the building, a sign of displeasure that surely couldn't have gone unnoticed by Pistons owner Tom Gores, who sat courtside.

"It sucks, first of all, but for me, I was in foul trouble to start the game," Singler said. "I would've took a hard foul to get him out his rhythm, but I didn't want to give up that. Looking back, would I have done it differently? Probably."

It's not in Singler's nature to put a player on his back, but after Johnson made 14 of 23 shots, it seemed something should have been done differently.

"We were trying to get some size on him," Van Gundy said. "We never got a handle on him. He was doing a great job making shots and making plays. I didn't come up with anything to slow him down at all."

The Pistons had other problems, like their inability to contain a player who entered the league when Andre Drummond was a year old, Kevin Garnett, who outquicked and outworked Drummond and Josh Smith to an 18-point, 14-rebound evening.

"Our defensive rebounding is still a problem," Van Gundy said. "Over the course of the season, we would be one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league (at the current rate)."

Van Gundy felt he had fixed the Pistons' shooting problems during the offseason, but the 42-percent shooting effort Saturday, including 1-for-17 on 3-pointers, raises the issue again.

"Five-point-nine percent," Van Gundy said, almost in amazement, looking at the stat sheet that displayed the dismal 3-point shooting percentage.

Monroe made his season debut after a two-game ban stemming from an arrest last season, and provided some energy off the bench.

Tellingly, when Monroe needed a rest midway through the fourth quarter, that was when the Nets began to pull away.

He checked in with 7:31 remaining in the first quarter, and immediately provided dividends. He and Jennings led the Pistons with 18 points each, with Monroe grabbing 11 rebounds in 30 minutes.

"After I played that first stretch and came out, once I came back in I felt pretty comfortable," Monroe said.

Jennings awoke from his slumber early, getting into the lane and playing with the dazzle that simultaneously makes him special and a puzzlement.

"I thought Brandon was terrific tonight," Van Gundy said. "I thought he kept his energy up the whole game. He played great tonight."

That makes three straight losses for the Pistons to open the season, and three straight games in which they still had a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

So far in The Palace this season it looks like a new lighting system, a new scoreboard, and the same old Pistons.