AUBURN HILLS — Sometimes effort, energy and a little veteran know-how can win you some games, especially in a condensed NBA season.
The Orlando Magic (4-2) came to the Palace on a four-game winning streak with a center in Dwight Howard who had averaged 21 rebounds in his last three games.
Although the Magic were playing back-to-back games after defeating the Toronto Raptors Sunday, one had to think it was going to be a long night for Detroit.
The Pistons had other ideas.
Greg Monroe had two fouls and Jason Maxiell had three after one quarter of trying to defend Howard. By halftime, it was three for Jonas Jerebko, four for Maxiell and two each for Monroe and Ben Wallace. Howard had 12 points but just three rebounds as the Pistons trailed by 2.
In the third quarter, the Pistons (2-3) outscored the Magic 24-17 and never trailed again, emerging with an 89-78 victory, their second in two games.
“I think what changed the game is Jason Maxiell and Ben Wallace,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “I think they brought a ruggedness to us, a toughness, a physical inside presence. We really like the fact that our guys responded in that third quarter and then continued to stay with it and got tougher in the moment of truth.”
The 78 points marked a season low for the Magic.
The icing on the cake came when Howard ended up being the one to foul out of the game with 2:46 left in the fourth quarter.
“I think we did a great job as a group,” Wallace said. “Some nights that’s what it’s going to take. We had guys get in foul trouble and we had guys come off the bench ready to play. That’s what this league is all about. You can’t depend on one guy to carry you night in and night out.”
It also helped having Ben Gordon score a season high 26 points and having Rodney Stuckey get to the free-throw line 13 times.
The Pistons outrebounded the Magic, 39-28.
“We didn’t play any defense and we didn’t rebound,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I think we ran out of gas offensively, but we never made any commitment to defense. I’m amazed we were even in shouting distance down the stretch.”
Both Monroe (9) and Jerebko (11) individually out-rebounded Howard, who had 7. Wallace had five rebounds and five steals.
“I think as a group we did a great job tonight,” Monroe said. “Anytime everybody can give an effort like that, we’ll get a win. We did a great job and we need to continue to play like that, to rely on each other to come in and save each other and have each others’ backs and we’ll continue to get wins.”
The reality of the 66-game season is that every team is going to play back-to-back or back-to-back-to-back games and you have to take advantage of that as the Pistons did Monday night.
“It was a great accomplishment to hold those guys down tonight but I think we did pay attention to details, we knew they played last night so we wanted to try to run a little bit, try to force them to have to chase us,” Wallace said. “For the most part, I felt like they were chasing us for the majority of the night.”
Coming off their first win against Indiana on New Year’s Eve, the Pistons look like they’re starting to get accustomed to Frank and his defense-first ways. It’s been a good bounce-back after the 0-3 start.
“We knew it was going to be a transition time,” Wallace said. “We got a new coach, got a new system, guys trying to pick up the system. It takes a little time. For us, we do have a little time on our side right now. I don’t think nobody expected us to be world beaters but we do expect to come out and compete every night.”
Getting ready for Rip
The Pistons will have their first chance to welcome back former teammate Rip Hamilton Wednesday night.
It’s going to be a little odd, especially for Wallace, who once left the Pistons to sign with the Bulls as a free agent.
“I think Rip just took my rap, man,” Wallace said. “It’s gonna be weird. But for the most part I’m just happy that he’s happy where he’s at. I feel like he was not only a good teammate, he was one of my brothers. I’m just glad he’s happy. I hope he’s having fun where he’s at. But when he comes in here, hopefully we can walk away and get the win and talk about that after the game.”
It will also be strange for Hamilton’s fellow UConn alum, Gordon, also a former Bull.
“Hat’s gonna be weird,” Gordon said. “I just kind of got used to being on the other side and playing against the Bulls. Now to see Rip over there, it’s gonna be different. But I’m looking forward to it.”