By Ashley Dunkak
AUBURN HILLS (CBS DETROIT) – The head coaching career of John Loyer could hardly have started any better than it did Monday night. Little more than 24 hours removed from the firing of Maurice Cheeks, Loyer proved to be exactly what the Detroit Pistons needed.
A positive beginning for Loyer’s turn as interim head coach was hardly guaranteed following Sunday’s dismissal of Cheeks. The Pistons had underachieved often, falling apart in fourth quarters and struggling defensively. Facing the 37-win San Antonio Spurs, a perennial power under revered coach Gregg Popovich, the Pistons could easily have been overwhelmed. The situation could have gone downhill – and fast.
Instead, Detroit played one of its better games this season, certainly against one of the stronger teams it has faced, even though the Spurs elected to rest stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker for much of the game. Even in the first half, though, when Duncan and Parker played most of their minutes, Detroit consistently led.
Six different Pistons finished in double digits as Detroit led by as much as 23 and went on to win 109-100. San Antonio, the best 3-point shooting team in the league, made just 5 of 17 attempts.
In recent weeks, the Pistons had looked to be sliding toward another season of no playoffs. Monday, they looked almost inspired. Instead of being discouraged by the abrupt termination of Cheeks, the players seemed invigorated by the new leadership of Loyer.
“He definitely got the game ball tonight,” guard Brandon Jennings said. “Loyer actually been good all year for us. He communicates well with the guys and everybody respects him.”
The way in which Loyer coached, up and around and loud and emphatic, seemed a welcome change of pace for the team.
“Coach Loyer did a great job,” forward Kyle Singler said. “He took control of the team and he demanded people’s attention and he just controlled the huddle really well tonight and just the pace of the game.
“He gets on guys, but everything that come out of his mouth is positive,” Singler added later. “He recognizes hard work, he acknowledges that, and he wants us to play, and that’s very encouraging to hear and see from your head coach.”
As for his big debut as head coach, Loyer downplayed the move. To him, the game felt about the same it did as when he was an assistant coach, he said at the podium afterward. Getting up and being talkative during the game is not so much style, he said, as what he felt the Pistons needed from him Monday night in particular.
“I just do what I think is best for the team,” Loyer said. “There’s going to be nights I think you need to sit over there and let them play, and there’ll be nights when it’s an emotional night and your guys need you a little bit more. We’ve got enough veteran guys on our team, whether they’re in the game or Chauncey [Billups] helping on the bench, that they know what to do. I just think a few of our guys need very positive reinforcement. That’s kind of who I am. That’s who I was as an assistant. I told them, the one thing, I won’t be – I’ll be the same guy as I was before, so I’m not changing.”
First and foremost, what Loyer wants from the group is maximum effort. It sounds simple enough, but in a league full of gifted players, work ethic and hustle can be the differentiating factors.
“From my college coach Bob Huggins, who I played for and coached with, is the ability to get your guys to play harder than the opponent,” Foyer said. “To me, that’s a big part of coaching because there’s a lot of nights you’re not going to make shots. There’s a lot of nights the ball’s not going to go in, a lot of nights you’re going to just throw it away, but the one thing you have control over is playing hard. Playing hard, to me, is a skill. You can’t list a whole bunch of guys in the league that play hard, and if you have some hard-playing guys, you’ve got a chance to win on a nightly basis. That team we played tonight has a lot of hard-playing guys.”
Particularly with the youth of the group, Foyer made it clear he believes there is plenty of effort that can be given.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that should have a lot of energy,” Foyer said, “and it’s going to be our job to get it out of them.”
At least for one game, Foyer and his staff did exactly that.