Coming off the rare four-day break, the Pistons were a little wary of how they’d start the game. But they started just fine, holding a five-point lead over Milwaukee after one quarter, turning the game over to the bench that’s been so good for them. But the Bucks went on a 16-1 run that forced Lawrence Frank to go back to his starters five minutes before halftime.
They stabilized the game at that point, cutting an 11-point deficit to eight by the break, then suffocated Milwaukee with their most dominant road quarter of the season, outscoring the Bucks 33-11.
“We came out with great energy tonight,” said Greg Monroe, who scored 12 of his game-high 26 points (plus 11 rebounds) in the decisive quarter. “It was definitely one of our best quarters of the season, by far, and we have to find ways to duplicate that quarter.”
The Pistons shot 13 of 19 (68.4 percent) in the quarter while holding Milwaukee – 18-16 entering the game and on a two-game win streak since replacing Scott Skiles with assistant Jim Boylan – to just 5 of 21 (23.8 percent). They assisted on 12 of their 13 baskets and came up with 11 consecutive defensive stops during a 15-0 run that took them from five points behind to 10 in front.
“The third quarter was tremendous,” Lawrence Frank said. “The starters played pretty well in the first quarter, as well, but the game kind of got away from us in that second quarter. To hold them to 11 points – we were able to score off of our defense. Everybody contributed. Greg and Brandon (Knight) were exceptional. Our movement, spacing, the stops, limiting them to one shot – a tremendous third quarter.”
Knight scored 10 of his 20 points and dished out all of his five assists – he didn’t commit a turnover all night – in the third quarter, but his defense from start to finish played at least as critical a role. Bucks guard Brandon Jennings was fresh off of a 35-point masterpiece in Milwaukee’s win over Chicago, but he was limited to 15 points and one assist on 5 of 13 shooting. Knight also had four rebounds and two steals.
“That’s first and foremost,” Frank said of Knight’s shackling of Jennings. “Brandon Jennings is the key cog to that team and I thought Brandon was really, really good. He was so engaged defensively. It’s amazing, when you do that, how offensively you start making plays. It’s how he got the 20. They were a rhythm 20. It was a real healthy way to get your points.”
“He made a lot of big shots in the third quarter,” Monroe said. “He did a good job of distributing the ball and taking shots he can make. It’s one of those nights where everything was clicking for all of us, but defensively is where we took control of the game and how we got the win.”
Big win, too. The Pistons are now 7-2 in their last nine games with the only two losses coming in overtime. They’re 14-23 now after opening the season 0-8. In the forgiving Eastern Conference, they’re still within striking distance of a playoff berth. But they can’t keep treading water forever. Beating teams ahead of them on the road is a sure way to improve their stance.
“It shows we can compete with anyone,” said Charlie Villanueva, who hit a killer triple late in the third quarter as the Pistons stretched their lead to 14. “We’ve been not so good on the road. Hopefully, we can build on this and move forward.”
“This is definitely a big win,” Monroe said. “They were pretty hot coming into this game. They’re one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. It’s a division game, which always means something, so we know we have an opportunity. We’re just trying to take it one night at a time and tonight we took care of business.”