The Pistons finally won, besting the Charlotte Bobcats 97-90 in their sixth game of the season. But in the third quarter, it looked like it was going to be deja-vu all over again.
Just like in Chicago, the Pistons were dominating and had built up a 22-point lead on the mistake-prone and punchless Bobcats. Then the Pistons legs seemed to get tired and the bottom started to fall out.
After a Ben Gordon jumper put the Pistons ahead 59-45 with 8:18 left in the third the team stopped moving the ball, shot selection got worse and everything seemed to be hitting the front of the rim. Then in less than four minutes a trio of three-pointers by D.J. Augustin, Stephen Jackson and Derrick Brown plus another jumper by Augustin cut the lead to 59-56.
A Brown layup pushed the score to 61-60, and the Pistons were sitting on a six-point third quarter and looked ready to give another one away. But then a funny thing happened. The Pistons started hitting big shots, with perhaps none bigger than Charlie Villanueva’s two consecutive 3-pointers to end the third quarter, including a buzzer beater after going coast-to-coast with three seconds remaining.
The teams largely traded baskets in the fourth, and with 90 seconds left the Pistons were clinging to a three-point lead, 88-85. The minute and a half could make or break the Pistons season. It was easy turn the season around now or give another game away and exacerbate not just the losing, but perhaps the in-fighting, finger-pointing and losing any confidence the team had left.
But the Pistons decided to hit more big shots. Richard Hamilton drove the lane between Bobcat defenders and took some contact as he hit a short jumper plus the and-one to push the lead to 91-85.
Then with a minute left, Augustin missed a free throw that seemed to be pulled down by the Bobcats before Greg Monroe snatched it away and allowed the Pistons to drain valuable seconds off the clock. The team did the rest of their scoring from the free-throw line and came away with that precious first victory.
To say that the victory was a team effort is an understatement. An energzied, swarming defense was able to force the Bobcats into 22 turnovers, and causing turnovers is something an undersized squad like the Pistons is going to have to rely on.
And on offense it wasn’t just the big threes from Villanueva or the important three-point play from Hamilton. Filling in for the benched Rodney Stuckey, Tracy McGrady manned the starting point-guard spot and executed the Pistons offense flawlessly, allowing Detroit to build a 20-8 lead early in the first quarter. Hamilton and Will Bynum played their first games back following some DNPs due to injury, and although they both had poor shooting nights (2-7 for Hamilton, 2-9 for Bynum) both provided some key energy off the bench. When McGrady had to sit it was Bynum that was able to get the Pistons offense back on track at critical junctures.
And Ben Wallace played his usual brand of brilliant basketball, grabbing six rebounds, four steals, four assists and a block. Monroe had nine points, six rebounds and made a key block in the post in the fourth quarter after hitting a driving runner down the lane through the teeth of the Bobcat defense in the fourth quarter.
Ben Gordon scored a team-high 20 points and hit a lot of big shots in the second half to stop the bleeding when the Pistons were in desperate need of a bucket. And although he struggled from the field, Hamilton ended the night with 16 points thanks to going 11-11 from the free-throw line. The free-throw line was a big factor in the Pistons victory as the hit 26-27 as a team while the Bobcats were 7-11 from the charity stripe.
The Bobcat attack was led by Jackson who scored 28 points on a scintillating 12-19 shooting, including 4-8 from three.