| The Detroit News
No Jerami Grant, no Delon Wright and no Josh Jackson.
Generally, that would be a big problem for the Pistons, but for one night, at least, they found a way to win without their three active leading scorers. They took down the Toronto Raptors, 129-105 Wednesday, in what was one of their most impressive performances this season.
It wasn’t just the dual triple-doubles from Mason Plumlee and Dennis Smith Jr. It was also season-best performances from Wayne Ellington (25 points) and Rodney McGruder (20 points).
It was Saben Lee contributing an unheralded 20 points and seven assists. Svi Mykhailiuk’s 17 points got lost in the sauce with so many key players out and so many others increasing their production to meet the need.
“I think we did a really good job of playing team basketball,” said Smith, who had 10 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, for his third career triple-double. “We were making shots and we kept the energy in the game from start to finish, so that was major for us, just keeping the energy in there and trusting each other.”
For the casual fan, it was a win — which can be good for the morale, but bad for the potential of a potential top-five draft pick — but beyond all that, the Pistons showed that they can play an exciting brand of basketball. Whether it’s the 20 3-pointers flying from everywhere or the 39 assists on 48 made baskets, there was something for almost everyone.
Coach Dwane Casey agreed that it was one of the most enjoyable games to watch in terms of fundamentals and execution.
“It was one of the best. It was ball movement, the togetherness with the little huddles. If one guy made a mistake, they talked about it,” Casey said Thursday. “It’s all good teamwork things that we talked about, with four guys sprinting to him if a guy hits the floor, to him to pick him up.
“The ball movement and the assists were unbelievable, and that’s what we’ve been preaching — so from that standpoint, yes.”
What it also shows is more fodder for the notion that general manager Troy Weaver has the eye for talent that he was highly regarded for. This wasn’t some flash-in-the-pan performance, with two teammates having triple-doubles in the same game, a feat that’s only been done 12 times in NBA history.
This was something that had been bubbling to the surface for a bit. Plumlee already had his first triple-double this season, and Smith has been building his production in his six games as a starter since Delon Wright went down because of a groin injury.
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Just because it happened once doesn’t mean that it’s sustainable for the rest of the season. It doesn’t mean that the Pistons don’t need Grant or Wright and that they’d push out performances like that every game. More realistically, it’s a sampler platter of what could happen more regularly when some of those players get increased playing time.
The important caveat is that there’s a difference between doing it in one game and being able to carry it over to multiple games over the course of a grueling season. Take it as a data point of what Smith could do if pressed into longer-term duty this season. Though he was moving closer to the triple-double, he didn’t get out of character to try to get the stats package.
“It’s definitely not something that you want to lock in on because if you start chasing (a triple-double), you start losing sight and your presence of mind and you’re not there,” Smith said. “My big thing has been trying and get rebounds as of late and chase the ball and be a ball hawk. That’s what happened — it just came out to be a triple-double.”
The Pistons seem to be loaded at point guard, with Lee giving a very nice glimpse into his NBA skillset and rookie Killian Hayes as the unquestioned long-term starter when he gets healthy.
Plumlee has proven his worth for the contract of three years and $25 million that many fans didn’t believe that he deserved. He’s been very solid and has shown some adeptness at facilitating the offense and scoring.
It’ll make for some interesting decisions for Weaver to wade through in deciding the long-term future of the franchise, with who stays and who goes.
Thursday’s win was just a teaser.