Last season, the Spurs were visiting Detroit in the middle of their Rodeo Road Trip a little banged up but looking to keep a win streak alive. The underwhelming Pistons were definitely talented but they had an inefficient gunner point guard and no real three point threats to complement their strengths inside. Their bench was also a bit shallow, which could prove to be a death sentence against the Spurs.
Surprisingly, the outside shots fell for Detroit and their subs provided the spark the team needed to beat the Spurs by ten, 119-109. San Antonio went on to win the next five and got Manu Ginobili out of the inactive list before the trip ended. They would go on to be 28 seconds away from an NBA championship. This season's outcome is still to be determined, but if the past is any indication, this eerily similar Monday night loss in Detroit has not doomed the Spurs' chances.
That was one ugly first quarter. With both teams featuring feeble offensive threats, the defenses were able to focus on denying easy opportunities for the featured scorers. The Spurs were helping off Smith and the Pistons generally packed the paint and used their size to disrupt the Spurs' offensive flow. With the always streaky Brandon Jennings starting out hot and the Spurs unable to hit three pointers, the Pistons used their trips to the line (eight in the first quarter alone) to get a small lead.
While Parker and Duncan kept the Spurs afloat, it was once again the bench that closed the gap for San Antonio. Pop made the decision to start De Colo and Baynes, which allowed Mills, Belinelli, Diaw and Ayres to sub in and share the court, with only Manu missing from that traditionally great bench unit. The subs moved the ball and quickly erased most of that five point deficit to allow the Spurs to go into the second down only one, 25-24.
The Spurs managed to stop fouling as much in the second quarter and limited the Pistons second chance points, which in a normal game against those guys would have been enough to neutralize their offense. But Detroit decided that this would be a good night to start hitting outside shots. In a flurry of transition threes and Josh Smith mid-range jumpers, the Pistons procured a double digit lead.
The Spurs did themselves no favors by turning the ball over seven times on the second period, which helped fuel the Pistons' fast break attack. Parker, Duncan and Belinelli managed to keep the lead from ballooning but without contributions from the unheralded role players the Spurs couldn't erase the deficit. At the break the Pistons led by 11, 59-48.
Surprisingly, Pop switched starting lineups to start the second half, bringing in Jeff Ayres and Marco Belinelli in for De Colo and Baynes. It didn't work, as the same problems that had plagued the Spurs in the first half continued despite the change in names. Careless turnovers (eight, to be exact) and fouls followed, only this time the Pistons also took advantage of their size to convert close to the hoop.
Things got out of hand fast and the Spurs found themselves on a huge hole midway through the period. Nothing was really working, which made the prospect of a comeback borderline impossible as the third quarter ended with the Pistons ahead by 20, 92-72.
Pop emptied the bench and those guys fought tooth and nail to get the team back into the game, spearheaded by Cory Joseph, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli. But the Pistons always had an answer and basically cruised to a nine point win that looks closer on paper than it was in reality.
- You can add Patty Mills and Danny Green to the long list of Spurs players that have suffered an injury this season. Green had a problem with his fingers and Mills sprained his ankle. It seems they will be able to go against the Celtics, so that's good. Also, this happened:
- The Pistons really dominated this game. I don't know if it was just a late "screw you" to Cheeks, an endorsement for interim coach John Loyer or simply one of those one in four games in which their very talented players show up to play (they have wins against the Heat and Pacers this season), but Detroit took control early and never relinquished it. Sure, the Spurs contributed by turning over the ball a lot and generally looking un-Spurs-like out there but I can't take anything away from the Pistons.
- I can't help but feel that Pop made a mistake by changing lineups mid-game. Baynes does two things well on defense: guard the post and rebound. That was needed against the Pistons' bigs. And while De Colo didn't have a great first half, the bench unit did. This loss isn't on Pop at all. But I would have liked to see the Spurs maintain a semblance of lineup continuity, if only for one game.
- Speaking of Pop, the Spurs have gone away from their offensive system for long stretches while shorthanded, relying more on simple pick-and-roll action and drive-and-kicks than their "motion offense", to mix results. All we can hope is that the team starts blowing the cobwebs away slowly as they start getting healthier.
- The Pistons shot 26 free throws to the Spurs' 11 but I don't think the officiating had anything to do with it. Detroit realized they were bigger and attacked relentlessly. There were a couple questionable calls but I don't think the refs had much to do with the final score.
- Parker continues to look intermittently great and hobbled. He definitely needs some time off, which is why it's great the All-Star break is coming. Tony will be in New Orleans but I'm sure he'll barely play. That's good enough for me.
- It's hard to single out anyone in particular as responsible for the loss. The Pistons just got hot at the right times and the Spurs' offense was a mess in its entirety for most of the game. Green caused some problems on defense because he over-helped at times and both Ayres and Baynes were unable to protect the rim but it would be unfair to blame them for the Spurs all-around putrid performance.
- I do believe that the work of De Colo and Joseph is worthy of praise, though. Those guys were out of the rotation not long ago and they have stepped up when the team has needed them. De Colo's shot abandoned him tonight but he remained aggressive and contributed on the boards. Joseph got a career-high nine assists to go with his 11 points.
I'll consider the Rodeo Road Trip a success as long as the Spurs keep the second seed and don't lose any more players to injury. But it would be nice to see them play as well as we know they can when the visit Boston on Wednesday.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our red panda-loving brothers from Detroit Bad Boys