‘We can play with anybody’: Detroit Pistons’ convincing win over Nets lifts confidence

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Saturday’s close double-overtime road loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday illustrated what the Detroit Pistons already believed to be true — with a full night of consistent effort, they can hang with any team in the NBA. 

It might be tall talk for a team that improved to 6-18 on Tuesday after defeating the Brooklyn Nets at Little Caesars Arena. But the Pistons have outplayed their league-worst record this season, against one of the NBA’s hardest schedules. Their net rating — the difference between the number of points a team scores and concedes over 100 possessions — is 24th in the NBA at minus-4.3, higher than three teams with double-digit win totals. And their six wins are all against projected playoff teams: Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat and Nets.

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The Pistons have struggled with consistency this season, but Tuesday marked one of their most complete efforts of the season. They had the lead for nearly the entire night, and were up by 20 early in the second quarter. They countered multiple Brooklyn runs with runs of their own. The Pistons saw strong performances from Jerami Grant (32 points, five rebounds, four assists, four 3-pointers), Mason Plumlee, Delon Wright and their bench. 

Brooklyn (14-12) played without its best player, Kevin Durant, but the Pistons won’t nitpick a rare win — one they believe they can build off of. After taking the defending champs to two overtimes in L.A., the Pistons strung together two of their best efforts of the season in back-to-back games. 

“After the Lakers game, we saw that when we bring that energy, we can play with anybody,” Wright, who had 22 points and nine assists vs. the Nets, said. “So, we wanted to start off good, and play our game.” 

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A difference-maker for the Pistons in both games is they started strong. They’ve been outscored by 111 points in first halves this season, but have outscored opponents by 19 points in second halves. They’ve often had to dig themselves out of deficits. They’ve done so successfully on occasion, but not often enough. 

Detroit shot 16-for-24 in the first quarter against the Nets and led 38-26 going into the second. The lead swelled to 20 early in the second quarter, and it helped them remain in control even as Brooklyn chipped away in the third quarter. The Nets cut the deficit to 79-77 midway through the third quarter, but the Pistons called timeout and closed the quarter with a 15-7 run. 

They shot 56% overall and attacked Brooklyn’s porous defense, scoring 58 points in the paint and shooting 70.7% (29-for-41). 

“It means that we are pulling together, and we are pushing through,” Plumlee, who had 14 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, said. “We have had a lot of close losses. I think it just means that everybody is holding on to the rope, and we are helping each other get through this. It feels good.” 

Their remaining first half strength of schedule is the fourth-easiest in the league, according to tankathon.com, with their 13 opponents boasting an average winning percentage of .455. 

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Coach Dwane Casey won’t use the schedule as an excuse, but it has been brutal. The Pistons have had the NBA’s toughest slate, and just completed a four-game road swing with stops at the Lakers, Utah Jazz, Suns and Golden State Warriors, all likely playoff teams. 

“It sounds like an excuse, but you go out West and you have Utah, one of the best teams in the league, Phoenix, who is one of the hottest teams in the league, you’re playing the Lakers, who’s one of the hottest teams in the league, and Golden State, they’re very capable,” Casey said. “… I was just hoping we didn’t get our head down and not ready to come back and compete. But the guys did a great job of coming back and competing and playing some mental and physical toughness, which was good to see.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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Detroit Pistons’ Mason Plumlee: Jerami Grant ‘is an elite scorer’

Pistons’ Mason Plumlee collected 14 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three blocks in the 122-111 win over the Nets, Feb. 9, 2021.

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