WASHINGTON (AP) — With three minutes left in a game Pistons coach Lawrence Frank called “ugly, grimy, grindy” — and his team won, beating the Washington Wizards 79-77 — the aesthetic highlight, without a doubt, came when Detroit rookie Brandon Knight got drenched while hurdling over the team’s sideline seats in futile pursuit of a loose ball.
Knight upended a jug of energy drink and about a dozen paper cups Monday night, spraying himself and some seated teammates. Play was delayed for a bit while Knight toweled off — and some of the evening’s most enthusiastic applause came in response to overhead video-board replays of his valiant and athletic effort.
“I just got up drenched,” Knight said. “I felt like I was sweating a lot.”
Yes, given the utter lack of good basketball displayed by two lottery-bound teams, Knight gave the Pistons a needed nudge, and Rodney Stuckey gave them the winning 20-foot jumper with 0.2 seconds left. Stuckey scored half of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, and the Pistons erased a 13-point deficit to end a five-game losing streak.
“Brandon’s hustle play was a momentum-changing play. Guy took a shower during the game, and that doesn’t happen a lot,” Frank said. “I thought that really pumped our guys up.”
It came during a game-changing run, as Detroit managed to win despite being held below 80 points for the third game in a row; that last happened to the Pistons in December 2003.
Greg Monroe, who played home games on the Wizards’ court while at Georgetown, had 10 points and 10 rebounds, including a putback off a miss by Tayshaun Prince with 23 seconds remaining to put Detroit ahead 76-75. After Detroit’s Ben Wallace made one free throw, Washington’s Nene tied it at 77 on a hook shot with 5.8 seconds to go.
That left enough time for Stuckey — who missed the past three games with a sore big left toe — to get up court and step back for the decisive shot that capped a comeback against the no-lead-is-safe Wizards. This was the third consecutive home game in which Washington was ahead by more than 10 points in the second half before losing.
“Carbon copy of the last two here,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “If you keep running into the same guy, and he keeps punching you in the face, you’re going to learn to get your hands up, aren’t you? This is three straight times.”
Jordan Crawford led Washington with 20 points, and John Wall had 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. But Wall also went scoreless in the fourth quarter, and missed a chance to help Washington with the ball in his hands late — just as in the previous two home defeats.
This time, Washington scored the second half’s initial eight points to lead 43-30. And while Washington lost its previous two home games despite leading one by 22 and the other by 16, those were against playoff-bound Indiana and Atlanta.
This was against Detroit, which like Washington is headed for the draft lottery.
Neither team has a chance of making the playoffs: Detroit is 17-32 and last in the Central Division, while the Wizards came in 11-38 and the only reason they weren’t last in the Southeast Division is that Charlotte resides there.
And they played like it.
The Pistons shot 28 of 76 (36.8 percent) in the game and accumulated more turnovers (13) than buckets (10) in the first half.
“The NBA called,” Frank said. “They were about to throw both of us out of the building.”
It didn’t help Washington that it was playing its third game in three nights, the team’s first of those rough stretches the NBA worked into the schedule in order to help it cram in 66 games after the lockout-shortened the calendar.
The Wizards, who have lost four in a row overall, took their sizable lead despite starting the game 0 for 10 on 3-point tries. That drought ended, surprisingly enough, when Wall made one; the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft was 2 for 27 from beyond the arc this season until then.
The first quarter was about as ugly as professional basketball gets. The Pistons missed their first six field goal attempts and finally made one on Stuckey’s end-to-end layup at the 7:13 mark.
“The first half,” Stuckey said, “was horrible on both sides.”
Detroit wound up 5 for 19 in the quarter — 26.3 percent.
The Wizards weren’t much better, though, making 7 of 21 shots — 33.3 percent — and trailed 16-14.
Yes, 30 total points for both teams after a full quarter of NBA action.
The quality of play didn’t really improve in the second quarter. There were air balls. Passes thrown into the crowd. Finger rolls that rolled off the rim.
At halftime, Washington led 35-30, matching Detroit’s lowest output for a half this season.
NOTES: The Wizards were without F Trevor Booker because of right knee tendinitis. … Washington won the teams’ first meeting this season by 21 points on Feb. 12. … Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps was in a courtside seat near the Wizards’ bench.