One night after he challenged a DeAndre Jordan dunk and lost, Knight went down in a heap under the basket early in Monday’s loss at Utah with a sprained left ankle. Knight clutched at his leg as he was falling to the court and appeared to be in tremendous pain. As Pistons trainers Arnie Kander and Mike Abdenour tended to him, he removed his mouthpiece and flung it over the backboard. When he was assisted to his feet, Knight could put no weight on his left leg.
On crutches afterward, Knight said he feared it might have been something worse than a sprain at first.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure,” he said. “Normally, when I sprain my ankle, I have the power to at least walk off the court. I turn ’em and I can walk it off. But this one, the pain wasn’t going away and I couldn’t put any pressure on it.”
The pall of Knight’s injury overshadowed a much better performance by the Pistons than they registered in Sunday’s 32-point loss to the Clippers. Trailing by 18 late in the first half, they put up 33 points in the third quarter to close to within six and had it at five with eight minutes to play. But playing shorthanded – they went the whole game without Jason Maxiell, as well – the Pistons simply didn’t have enough firepower to win in a building where they last won nearly 11 years ago.
“Guys definitely played harder tonight,” said Greg Monroe, who battled Utah’s physical frontcourt for nearly 42 minutes and put up another double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. “The guys that stepped in did a great job. We came up short, but the effort was there. They’re a good team, especially at home. We make a couple more shots, we probably put ourselves in position to win the game, get a couple more stops. They really hurt us on the offensive glass. That might be the biggest difference in the game.”
The Pistons were soundly outrebounded, 47-30, and for a stretch of two-plus minutes in the fourth quarter – the only rest Monroe got in the second half – Brian Hill had to use a frontcourt of Jonas Jerebko, who started for Maxiell and scored 15 points, and Charlie Villanueva.
“Like I told our guys – I don’t want to lose, they don’t want to lose – but you can walk out of the building feeling a little bit better because of the way we competed tonight,” Hill said. “Especially with Max out and losing Brandon right at the beginning of the game and being shorthanded, I thought our guys did a great job.”
Even after Knight went down, the Pistons hung tough in a first quarter that put no breathing room between the teams. Both shot in the mid-30 percent range and Utah led 20-19. But Utah’s second unit quickly built a double-digits lead that expanded to 18 in a 31-point quarter before the Pistons made it a slightly more manageable 14 by halftime. Then the Pistons put together a 33-point third quarter, getting nine points on perfect shooting from Jose Calderon and six apiece from Monroe, rookie Khris Middleton and Rodney Stuckey.
“Our defense was solid,” Kyle Singler said. “We kept on playing and we didn’t give up. That was good to see. You want to win, but today we competed. The performance in LA was embarrassing, but we could have let it go again today. We showed a little fight.”
The double whammy of losing Knight and Maxiell also overshadowed the encouraging news the Pistons announced earlier in the day regarding Andre Drummond, who missed his 16th consecutive game since suffering his back injury in early February. The Pistons revealed that Drummond had been examined by two Los Angeles-based doctors who consulted with Pistons team doctors and concluded that his recovery was on course and OK’d kicking his physical activity up a notch to include basketball-related activities.
But Drummond and Knight won’t be back anytime soon, so the Pistons face the season’s final 16 games needing to get contributions up and down the roster, Hill said.
“It presents opportunities for other people,” he said. “Guys that haven’t gotten minutes – Kim English, Slava (Kravtsov), guys like that – we’re going to need production from them. We got a nice life form Khris Middleton tonight. That’s what we need. That’s why these guys have to be ready to play.”
It was Middleton’s triple with 8:06 to play that sent an uneasy murmur through the crowd at Energy Solutions Arena, where the Pistons last won on Nov. 6, 2002 – the first season as Pistons for Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and a rookie named Tayshaun Prince. But Mo Williams, who scored 14 of his game-high 20 in the second half, hit a big triple with five minutes left to put Utah ahead by nine and the Pistons really didn’t threaten after that.
“As a lot of people say, it’s a make or miss league,” Hill said. “We had a lot of open looks we couldn’t make tonight and they made theirs.”
The Pistons clearly missed the threat of Knight’s 3-point shooting from their first unit, which made just two triples for the game, one from Calderon and one from Jerebko. Middleton had more than half of Detroit’s seven triples with his four.
“Essentially, what he’s been able to do is knock down open shots,” Hill said. “That’s something we can always use. We get a lot of defenses that sink in on Greg, either with double teams or sink their whole defense on him. He allows us to spread the floor a little bit.”
“He’s been playing well, knocking down shots,” said Monroe, who didn’t shoot a free throw until the closing minutes, a source of frustration for him. “He’s been working extremely hard all year and right now he’s benefiting from it. Everybody in the locker room is not surprised at all. We see him every day. He’s just getting a chance to play in games now.”
The Pistons just aren’t crazy about the way that opportunity has presented itself.