Sacramento — What began as an unexpected verbal personal challenge ended up being something Kentavious Caldwell-Pope replied to without saying a word, but sending the biggest message possible — with his right wrist and fingertips.
Although he tried his best not to let people in to his thinking, the words from Suns forward Markieff Morris stung when Morris claimed Caldwell-Pope didn't have any heart, considering it was a verbal shot after the Pistons fell to the Suns on Nov. 19 at The Palace.
"Definitely the last game, it bothered him," teammate Caron Butler said. "Because he's a kid who stays to himself, stays relatively quiet but at the same time he's no pushover. He plays hard, brings it night after night, on the court and in practice."
If there's one thing competitors don't like to have questioned, it's their desire. So if Caldwell-Pope took some extra joy after hitting a corner triple in front of the Suns bench that would propel the Pistons to breaking their 13-game losing streak Friday night, he certainly was entitled.
"Ha! Nah, I did kind of look at the bench or whatever, let them know I do have heart. I'll take that shot any day," Caldwell-Pope said afterward, with a bit of a grin. "It felt good. Jodie (Meeks) had a nice cut to the basket, (Eric) Bledsoe helped and I was wide open. I spotted up and knocked the shot down."
Morris was on the floor then, and stayed ground bound when Caldwell-Pope drove the lane for powerful dunks earlier in the game. He wanted Morris to challenge him then, to meet man-to-man at the rim.
"He stayed on the floor," Caldwell-Pope muttered to himself.
Butler seemed surprised Morris took his words outside the court and to the media, but wasn't shocked at Caldwell-Pope's focus when the moment presented itself Friday.
"It was a confidence booster. Obviously it was something he really wanted, another chance, a shot to prove himself," Butler said. "He's definitely more than capable with his ability. That's the nature of the business. It's a lot of trash talk. Markieff is a good young talent, Kentavious is as well. It was good to see him step up and be ready for that moment.
"It's just basketball. They're just playing. It don't spread outside (the game). I don't think there's a story within it. On Kentavious' part, just being ready for that opportunity and Coach drawing up the play, 'This is the first option, this is the second. If you catch the ball, do something with it.' He made a huge, huge shot."
The fact Caldwell-Pope even replied afterward showed there's certainly a pulse, and he's showing a propensity to hit big shots. With the Pistons offense stalling earlier in the quarter Friday, and the shot clock running down, he motioned for Greg Monroe to set a screen.
Monroe, knowing they didn't have time for a pick and roll, yelled "Go!" and Caldwell-Pope unleashed a triple as the buzzer went off, giving the Pistons a two-point lead.
He found himself in a similar position 24 hours later, only Morris was nowhere in the vicinity, and the Pistons were trying to hold off the surging Kings with 1:35 left in the fourth.
It didn't matter Caldwell-Pope only made one field goal before that point, but apparently the second-year guard wasn't anxious to return to that familiar feeling of losing late.
He drained another high-arching triple.
Now he's on the verge of becoming a go-to player for Stan Van Gundy, where clearly the position is open for a team with just five wins in 24 games.
"He's done that 4-5 times this year," Van Gundy said. "He's got no fear in the fourth quarter, and I thought defensively he was doing a good job."
Pistons at Clippers
Tipoff: 10:30 Monday, Staples Center, Los Angeles
TV/radio: FSD/105.1 FM
Outlook: The Pistons can sweep their three-game road swing with a win. … The Clippers won the earlier meeting at the Palace, 104-98, on Nov. 26