Depleted Pistons Defeat Deflated Wolves

Pistons 94, Wolves 90 Season Record: 19-54

The Detroit Pistons, comfortably secure in their second seed status for the Eastern Conference playoffs, came to town Tuesday evening with their three best players—Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Chauncey Billups— scratched from the lineup.

The Wolves, energized on their home court, where they’d won four straight(!) games, came out swinging. Jefferson was posting up McDyess, drawing contact, and sinking his hook shot. Gomes was hitting from the outside. Even Brewer was hot (more on him later). They were swinging the ball around, finding the open man, knocking down shots with gusto. In one particularly elegant display of this midway through the first, Foye made a nifty bounce pass inside to Jefferson, who did a little stutter step, sending McDyess into the next zip code, and dunking with emphasis.

Long story short, by midway through the second quarter, the Wolves had built a 43-22 lead. The wire guys (or at least a wire guy) had written their ledes: The resurgent Timberwolves overwhelm injury-depleted Detroit.

But, of course, it was premature. In the final four minutes of the second quarter, the Wolves were outscored 14-0, and went to the locker room up only 49-44. After the game, Wittman blamed that stretch for the loss. And, it is true, the Wolves’ starters, perhaps afflicted with a case of Rashadia, quit moving the ball like they’d done to start the game—and, significantly, stopped getting the ball inside to Jefferson. (It didn’t help going 0-4 from the charity stripe during that stretch, either.)

But it’s not quite accurate to say the miserable end to the first half lost the game. After all, the Wolves did come back out to play in the third quarter, leading by 10 with only 2:05 in the period, and by seven to start of the final frame. More accurately, the Wolves allowed Detroit back into the game at the end of the second quarter. But they lost it in fourth.

Two plays stick out. Both involve Randy Foye. Neither end well.

First, with the game tied at 88 and the Wolves with the ball with 65 second remaining, Foye rightly seeks to get the ball into Jefferson. There are two defenders between them. Instead of drawing them off the big man to free him up, or faking, say, the bounce pass to then lob it in, Foye lazily bounces the ball inside. The defenders, both anticipating the pass, cut it off easily. It wasn’t even close. (Twenty second later, Detroit superstar Rodney Stuckey [27 points, mostly on Foye] sticks a 14-footer—on Foye.)

The next play: Out of a timeout, Foye takes the ball down the court, dribbles baseline, draws a second defender, and pulls back to take a 15-footer. It clanks off the rim, Detroit rebounds. Game, for all intents and purposes, over.

Afterward, pressed by Britt Robson, Wittman acknowledged in not so many words that the play was not properly executed, and that Foye screwed up in not recognizing he had an open man—Jefferson—inside.

ON THE COURT WITH COREY BREWER: (In which we take a closer look at an individual player’s game, with an eye toward what it all means.) The rook got off to an impressive start. Early in the first quarter, he drove the lane for a spectacular layup. Was in position for an offensive rebound and had a putback. Hit a jumper from around the free throw line. Hell, even his one turnover was encouraging. He passed up an open-ish shot from 15 feet on the baseline to get closer to the basket. Yes, he dribbled into two defenders and lost the ball, but it's good to see him take the ball to the hole. After the first quarter, he was 5-5. For 10 points.

Corey Brewer the rest of the game was a very different story. He started settling for jumpers—and missing. He played a bit too far off Tayshaun Prince, getting burned on the dribble more than once. He looked overwhelmed. Brewer finished the night 5-9. For 10 points.

While it’s obviously too early to draw definitive conclusions, here’s what we will say: we’re hopeful that Brewer bulking up a bit in the offseason and working on his jumper will not only a) keep him from getting pushed around so much, and b) enable him to hit some of those open jumpers that everyone gives him, but, perhaps, c) improve his confidence, which would serve him well in the last three quarters of games.

SIDELINE NOTES Antoine Walker continues to look sullen as ever, even as he dons a different custom-fit sports coat with baggy dress pants each night. For much of the game, seated behind the bench, he seemed to be staring into the middle distance, perhaps reflecting on the injustice of how Theo Ratliff, who started tonight against the Wolves, got picked up by the Pistons while he remains the 13th wheel on a team in the midst of a youth movement.

LOCKER ROOM NOTES Precious little to report. Few of the players were in the locker room by the time the media was let in. In fairness, they had a plane to catch for Wednesday’s game against Utah. We probably wouldn’t be too keen on talking to the press after an implosion like this game, either.

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