AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Pistons are building their franchise around a talented frontcourt.
On Tuesday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves gave them some tips on how that’s done.
Kevin Love had 26 points and 16 rebounds, while Corey Brewer and Nikola Pekovic combined for 29 points as the Timberwolves routed the Pistons 121-94. The Timberwolves didn’t dominate inside, matching Detroit’s 44 points in the paint, but the Pistons struggle to win games if they don’t have a major advantage in the post.
“We were trying to make them take outside shots,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. “They made a lot in the first quarter, but our whole point is transition defense, getting back and trying not to give them anything near the basket.”
As it often does, forcing the Pistons to shoot jumpers turned their offense into chaos. Detroit hit just 38 percent of its outside shots, and 29 percent from 3-point range. In the meantime, the Timberwolves were shooting almost 50 percent from 3-point range and took 33 free throws to Detroit’s 16.
“They are such a hard team to defend, because they can score in so many ways,” Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said. “Once they get scoring, they almost never stop, so you have to keep scoring with them. We had a couple stretches where we either turned the ball over or missed a few shots in a row, and that let them get away from us.”
Love only played 30 minutes, sitting out the fourth quarter with the big lead. Detroit was unable to stop him inside, outside or on the break. Several of his seven assists came on his trademark 70-foot outlet passes off missed shots.
“He’s a unique player, because he can sit down on the block and score against you, and then he can step out and hit 3-pointers,” Cheeks said. “On the other end, he’s grabbing rebounds and hitting those passes over the top on the break. He hit a few of those against us, and that’s an easy basket.”
Love missed Minnesota’s loss to Miami on Dec. 7 to attend the funeral of his grandmother. He had “RIP Grandma Carol” written on his shoes Tuesday, and said he was playing with a little extra incentive.
“She’s supported me since I was a baby, so I wanted to make sure and do something special for her tonight,” he said.
Kevin Martin added 18 points for Minnesota, which finished with six players in double figures.
“We did a great job of pushing the ball,” Minnesota guard Ricky Rubio said. “We had fun out there, and we were aggressive. That got us to the line, and then Kevin (Love) just does everything for us.”
Brandon Jennings had 20 points for Detroit, but Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond were held to a combined total of 18 points and 10 rebounds.
“They had won four of their last five games, so we knew we had to jump on them early and not let up,” Love said. “We had a big run and then kept the game in double digits. That really shows our leadership and maturity throughout our lineup.”
The Pistons have relied heavily on their frontcourt this season, but didn’t have the advantage in that matchup against Minnesota.
Love, Nikola and Brewer had 37 points in the first half, seven more than Detroit’s Drummond, Josh Smith and Monroe. The Timberwolves had a 28-26 edge on points in the paint, usually Detroit’s biggest strength, and made 17 free throws to just one for Detroit.
“I’m not going to complain about the free throws, because that’s part of the game,” Cheeks said. “They were more aggressive than we were, so they got to the line.”
That was good enough to give the Timberwolves a 64-51 halftime lead, even though both teams had shot just over 52 percent from the field. Detroit trailed by as many as 17 points in the third, but going to a zone defense helped them cut the margin to 86-75 late in the quarter.
Martin hit two 3-pointers to make it a 17-point lead, and Minnesota was up 96-77 going into the fourth quarter. With a fourth game in five nights coming Wednesday in New Orleans, Cheeks conceded early in the final quarter, emptying his bench as Detroit fell farther behind.
“We have to forget this and get ready to play tomorrow,” rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “They just spread us on defense by hitting 3s, and then they threw the ball inside for easy baskets. It’s tough to stop that.”
NOTES: Due to injuries, the game was Love’s first at the Palace since the 2010-11 season. … Chauncey Billups of the Pistons played for the first time since Nov. 12. He had missed 14 games with knee tendinitis. He played 17 minutes and despite obvious rust on his jumper, finished with seven points and five assists. … Caldwell-Pope finished with a career-high 16 points, while fellow rookie Tony Mitchell hit the first 3-pointer of his career at the final horn.
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