Why the Detroit Pistons should be encouraged despite ‘gut punch’ loss in season opener

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
 
| Detroit Free Press

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After averaging 21.5 turnovers per game during preseason, the Detroit Pistons had just 15 on Wednesday. They shot the ball from the floor well most of the night, got strong performances from several of their key players and led for the vast majority of the game. 

But when closing time arrived, the Pistons fell apart. They committed costly turnovers late in the game, failed to hit outside shots after a strong start and looked like a team still discovering its identity.

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The Pistons blew a 14-point second-quarter lead, losing to the Timberwolves on Wednesday, 111-101. They held the lead from the opening tip until midway through the fourth quarter, when a Malik Beasley transition layup tied the game at 95. They took the lead at the 3:38 mark, when Karl-Anthony Towns drained a 3-pointer. 

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Detroit Pistons’ Killian Hayes explains what he saw on his 2 crucial turnovers

Pistons rookie Killian Hayes discusses his debut in loss to Timberwolves, where he had 7 points, 3 assists and 4 turnovers, Dec. 23, 2020.

Detroit Pistons

From there, the T’wolves gained control, going on a 13-4 run to close the game. Head coach Dwane Casey saw some positives from the Pistons’ performance, but acknowledged that the loss was a “gut punch.” 

“Overall I thought there was a lot of positives, Casey said. “We just gotta be able to close it out now. Close it out, have poise down the stretch, stay together down the stretch, and make sure we understand what we’re trying to do.”

Even though the Pistons kept their turnovers relatively low after coughing it up a lot during preseason, they came at costly times Wednesday. They moved the ball, got out in transition and shot well in the first half, committing just three turnovers against 17 assists. It helped them survive a shooting slump in the second quarter, where they shot 1-of-12 overall from 3 after going 4-of-6 in the first quarter. 

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The second half was worse. The Pistons committed five turnovers in the third quarter, and four in the fourth. Three of the fourth quarter turnovers were by Killian Hayes in his first career regular season game. He traveled at the 6:36 mark of the fourth, and then later had back-to-back possessions where he tried to pass to Blake Griffin just inside the perimeter, only for it to be stolen by Ricky Rubio both times. The T’wolves scored following both turnovers, tying the game. 

“It was me trying to feed Blake and Rubio got a tip on it,” Hayes said. “It was frustrating because they got two points in, kinda gave them rhythm to come back in the game. That was a tough one.” 

“It was careless,” Casey added. “It was soft passes, not Rubio being clever. Understanding what our options were in transition a couple times. And then (against) zone, I thought we got decent looks. We got in the paint against it, kicked it out and missed some good looks. It wasn’t anything the zone was doing. It was more self-inflicted. I think we had 10 in the second half, which was the backbreaker.” 

But it wasn’t just Hayes. The Pistons threw passes directly to Minnesota defenders on more than one occasion and managed to kill their own momentum. They looked like a team still getting to know itself — and they still are, given that training camp began less than three weeks ago. With only four players returning from last season’s roster, this team is still developing chemistry on the court.

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The Pistons also had a major free-throw disparity. The T’wolves went 24 for 28 while the Pistons were just 3 of 8. Casey said he would have to review film to see what happened, because he thought his team did a good job drawing contact in the paint. 

But the Pistons shot 48.4% overall (and held Minnesota to 43.2%) and got strong performances from many of their key players on the bench. Jackson finished with 19 points (8-of-14 from the floor, 3-of-7 from 3) and six rebounds. Mason Plumlee had a tidy 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and showed that he can handle playmaking responsibilities.

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Dwane Casey reacts to Pistons’ tough loss, takeaways on Killian Hayes

Pistons coach Dwane Casey gives his takeaways on the 111-101 loss to the Timberwolves in the season opener, Killian Hayes’ debut, Dec. 23, 2020.

Detroit Pistons

It could take time for the Pistons to gel. Wednesday might’ve left a sour taste in their mouth, but for 3½ quarters, they looked like the superior team. Despite the loss, Casey is still encouraged by the progress the Pistons showed on offense. 

“I liked the ball movement, I liked the way we were sharing the ball,” Casey said. “We have 29 assists. We’ll take that. But then again, the untimely turnovers is what broke our back down the stretch.”

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

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