Detroit Pistons’ cold night shooting spoils Dennis Smith Jr.’s debut; 111-95 loss to Pacers

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II | Detroit Free Press

After pulling off an upset win against the Brooklyn Nets at home on Tuesday, the Detroit Pistons weren’t able to carry that momentum against the Indiana Pacers Thursday.

The Pacers defeated the Pistons, 111-95, behind a strong night from Domantas Sabonis (26 points, eight rebounds and eight assists). Detroit shot a season-worst 17.9% from 3 (5-for-28), marring an otherwise solid offensive night.

Josh Jackson continued his hot streak, scoring 18 points to go with eight rebounds and four assists off of the bench. Isaiah Stewart added 17 points, seven rebounds, two steals and a block in his first career start, and Blake Griffin finished with 16 points, six assists and three rebounds.

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Stewart impresses in first start

The Pistons were already shorthanded at center entering Thursday’s game. The team announced on Wednesday that Jahlil Okafor will miss six to eight weeks after surgery on his left knee. Dwane Casey has mostly stuck with a two-man center rotation with Mason Plumlee and Stewart in recent weeks, but Okafor still filled a valuable role as insurance for when Stewart got in foul trouble.

Detroit ended up being thinner at center than expected, as Plumlee was a late scratch with bursitis in his right elbow. It propelled Stewart into the starting lineup for the first time, and his first start was impressive. His 17 points were a career-high.

His defensive impact and overall energy was felt early. He bothered Sabonis enough to make him miss two early post-ups, and Stewart scored consecutive buckets of his own — a layup after grabbing the offensive rebound, and a dunk after a roll to the rim — to increase the lead to 11-4 midway through the first.

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In the second quarter, Stewart made a play that summed up his entire game. He blocked a Sabonis layup attempt, and then outran the entire Pacers defense in transition. He lifted his hand when he had a clear path to the rim, and Josh Jackson sent him a long outlet pass for a dunk. It happened in the midst of a 9-0 Pistons run, and helped Detroit tie the game at 52 at halftime after trailing by nine after the first quarter.

Plumlee’s absence forced Sekou Doumbouya, who spent time as a small-ball five during the offseason, and Blake Griffin to logged minutes at center. Neither were able to offer much defensive resistance against Sabonis and Myles Turner, but Doumbouya was impactful as a rebounder, grabbing six in 16 minutes.

Dennis Smith Jr. ‘super excited’ to play for Detroit Pistons
Pistons’ Dennis Smith Jr. said he just watched the Bad Boys documentary for 10th time, and why he’s ‘super excited’ to be in Detroit, Feb. 10, 2021.

Smith makes his Pistons debut

Casey said on Wednesday that he intended to get Dennis Smith Jr. minutes on Thursday. Smith said he had an “enthusiastic” first day of practice Wednesday, and there’s an immediate need for him at the backup point guard.

Smith made his debut with the Pistons at the beginning of the second quarter and played 13 minutes. He scored his only bucket at the 10:04 mark of the fourth quarter, and finished the night with two points and two rebounds on 1-for-4.

It could take some time for him to get comfortable. He only had one day of practice, appeared in just three games with the New York Knicks and Casey said his conditioning needs to pick up. As his comfort level increases, his minutes could as well.

Pistons can’t overcome cold night from outside

Entering Thursday, NBA teams were 1-8 overall this season when making five or fewer 3-pointers on at least 25 attempts. The Pistons increased that loss total to nine.

Detroit shot 5-for-28 from behind-the-arc, the biggest reason why they suffered a rare blowout loss. They otherwise shot a respectable 44.7% overall. The Pistons didn’t make their first 3-pointer until Bey’s early in the second quarter. It was their worst night of the season from outside.

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

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