Blake Griffin looked like his old self in Detroit Pistons’ preseason loss to New York Knicks

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
 
| Detroit Free Press

The atmosphere entering the Detroit Pistons’ first preseason game on Friday was quiet. 

And not from lack of effort. The Little Caesars Arena speakers blared the usual mix of rap hits, and the Pistons’ longtime arena announcer, Mason, had his usual gusto while introducing the starting lineup. 

Still, no amount of crowd noise can replace thousands of people in the audience. Like much of professional sports, no fans were allowed in the arena during Detroit’s 90-84 loss to the New York Knicks.

Regardless, Dwane Casey was eager to see how his mostly new roster looked in live action. 

“We’ve been through so much as a nation,” Casey said. “Don’t even talk about basketball, just as a nation. It’s great to get back to some type of normalcy and get back to playing basketball. I know the players are excited. We had an excellent week of camp, so it’s going to be exciting to see against different-colored jerseys. It gives us a measurement of where guys are, what we need to work on, what we need to improve on.”

The Pistons shot 32.5% overall and 25.6% from 3-point range Friday. It was often an ugly game, but there were some bright spots. 

A wide-open rotation

Leading into the game, Casey said he would limit everyone’s minutes so all his players would get a chance to play. He mostly stuck to his plan. Blake Griffin, Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant received a bulk of the minutes through the first three quarters. But the substitutions were frequent and by the end of the third quarter, 12 players saw the floor for Detroit. 

Killian Hayes, Delon Wright, Grant, Griffin and Plumlee started for Casey. He finished the first quarter with Derrick Rose, Svi Mykhailiuk, Josh Jackson, Sekou Doumbouya and Jahlil Okafor. Wayne Ellington and Sekou Doumboya received extended minutes in the second quarter. 

The fourth quarter saw Casey expand his rotation to 15, with Isaiah Stewart, Rodney McGruder and two-way guard Saben Lee receiving minutes. 

As Casey continues to work out his rotation, it’s possible the revolving door will last the rest of preseason. 

Killian Hayes aggressive in his first (preseason) start

The Pistons have talked highly of Killian Hayes’ NBA-readiness since the night he was drafted. Fittingly, he was aggressive early.  

His first two shots — a stepback 3-pointer and floater — didn’t fall. Then Griffin found him cutting to the rim in transition for a layup through contact. Hayes finished the 3-point play for his first unofficial NBA points. 

It wasn’t a smooth night for the rookie, but he looked poised and improved after the first quarter. Hayes (5 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists in 21 minutes) showed flashes of his ability to create for others, driving and kicking to Wayne Ellington for an open 3 for his first assist, and then finding a wide-open Griffin on the wing on the following drive. Griffin passed the shot to Bey in the corner, who drained the 3. 

He got into the lane and finished a floater for his first points of the second half early in the third. As long as it maintains that poise, it sounds as though Casey will continue to give him opportunities to prove himself. 

“He’s a little further ahead just because he’s played in a professional league before,” Casey said pregame. “He’s been a pro since he’s been 16 or 17 years old. He grew up watching his dad being a professional player. I love his demeanor. He doesn’t get rattled. If he’s rattled, you don’t see it. He has that blank look on his face, and it’s hard to tell if he’s excited or down or whatever it is, which is good for a point guard, especially for a rookie point guard.” 

Is Blake Griffin back? 

His stat line ( 9 points, 7 boards and 5 assists) didn’t jump off of the page, but it was an encouraging first preseason game for Griffin. He hadn’t played a live NBA contest since early January, when knee surgery ended his season after just 18 games. He said he felt fully healthy during training camp, and Casey praised his activity level and performance, going as far as to say Monday he’s back to being the Blake of old. 

Griffin looked the part Friday, displaying a comfort level he often didn’t have last season while playing through knee soreness. His jump shot had more lift and he was engaged as a playmaker. He even dove for a few loose balls — a sign that he isn’t worried about reinjuring his knee. 

It could take some time before he works off the rust on his shot, and that’s true for the rest of the roster as well. The Pistons missed significantly more shots than they made, to say the least. But if Friday is a sign of things to come, Griffin could be well on his way to a comeback season.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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