Villanueva lifts Pistons out of 10-game losing streak

John Delong, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The struggling Detroit Pistons needed a spark on Saturday night, and veteran Charlie Villanueva provided it.
Villanueva came off the bench to score 15 fourth-quarter points, including the game-winner on a drive with 15 seconds left, as the Pistons rallied to beat the Charlotte Bobcats 92-91.
The performance enabled the Pistons to snap a 10-game losing streak and avoid being officially eliminated from the playoff race, and it drew raves from Pistons coach Lawrence Frank.
"He lit us up," Frank said. "When you're in a mode like this and you've lost 10 games in a row or whatever the streak was, you need someone to give you a spark. And Charlie in the fourth quarter was huge for us. The energy he gave us, our bench was into the game, and I loved the way all those guys surrounded him after the game. There is a kinship there."
Teammates mobbed the 6-11, seven-year veteran after he came down with the final rebound in the closing seconds, after the Bobcats missed two chances to win at the end. Kemba Walker missed a floater in the lane, then Detroit's Rodney Stuckey got a piece of Josh McRoberts' follow shot, deflecting it to Villanueva at the buzzer.
"I just try to help this team win in any shape or form," Villanueva said. "But I give my teammates credit. I'm telling you, they made the right plays, they found me. It just feels good to win. Being on that losing streak, we kinda got that monkey off our back. You could just see how excited everyone was to get that win, and the way we did it."
Villanueva finished with a team-high 18 points, hitting four of his seven 3-point attempts. The Pistons also got 14 points from Jason Maxiell, 13 from Stuckey, 11 from Jose Calderon and 10 from Brandon Knight.
The Pistons trailed 76-69 going into the fourth quarter after being down by as many as 10 in the third quarter. Villanueva hit two 3-pointers in a span of 70 seconds, and his second gave the Pistons the lead at 81-80 with 6:14 left.
The lead would change hands eight more times, but ultimately the Pistons pulled it out at the end.
With Charlotte leading 91-90 following two free throws by Walker with 31.6 seconds left, the Pistons went to Villanueva for another 3-point attempt. He missed, but Greg Monroe got the offensive rebound and found Villanueva streaking to the basket for a layup and the lead with 15.0 on the clock.
"He was the first person in my sight," Monroe said. "I just wanted to make sure I got it to somebody. I didn't want to have another turnover; we'd had a couple just before that. I didn't want to get the rebound and us not get another shot. So he was the first one I saw, and it was a pretty safe pass."
Stuckey then came up with a defensive gem on the other end. Walker, who finished with a game-high 25 points, drove the lane but pulled up and missed a shot.
"We knew that they were going to do a pick-and-roll with Kemba, so we just tried to contain him," Stuckey said. "We did a good job of doing that, and then McRoberts got the offensive board and I was just at the right spot to be able to block the shot a little bit, and we got the rebound and got the victory."
The Pistons are now 24-47 and still technically in the playoff race, though they would have to win out and have Milwaukee lose out to get the eighth and final Eastern Conference spot.
"It's nice to get off the schneid," Frank said. "Now we want to continue every night to make sure we're finishing off the season in a very competitive and professional way. I liked the composure our guys showed tonight. I always like to look in the guys' eyes and just kinda see where we're at. I liked what I saw tonight. There was a calmness, there was no panic, and we executed enough down the stretch and got the stop to win it."
The Bobcats fell to a league-worst 16-53 and had a two-game winning streak snapped.
Besides Walker's 25, the Bobcats got 16 points from Jannero Pargo, 15 from Gerald Henderson, 12 from Bismack Biyombo and 11 from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
"There's no questioning, the team is getting better," Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said. "We're playing sturdy at a time of year where most teams let go of the rope. We're in a good place. We wanted to win the game but I'm really proud of where we're at."
NOTES: Knight returned to the Pistons' starting lineup on Saturday after missing four games with a sprained ankle. The Pistons continue to be without Andre Drummond, but he is back working out with the team and his return could come soon. ... The Pistons hadn't won since Feb. 27 at Washington. They had lost by an average margin of 17.2 during the skid. ... The game matched up the only two players in the NBA from Sweden, Charlotte's Jeffery Taylor and Detroit's Jonas Jerebko. ... The Bobcats will now hit the road to play at Miami on Sunday. They will play four of their next five on the road. ... The Pistons will return home to face Minnesota on Tuesday.

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