Detroit — Sometimes, it’s worthwhile to take a small victory, even in a big loss.
There haven’t been many lopsided losses for the Pistons this season, but against the New York Knicks, the big blowout was one of the anomalies.
The Knicks scored the first 14 points of the game and didn’t let off the gas the rest of the way, as they cruised past the Pistons, 125-81, on Saturday night at Little Caesars Arena. The 44-point winning margin was the largest for the Knicks since 1996.
It was the last home game before the Pistons embark on a five-game western trip over the next seven days, with games at Oklahoma City, Denver, Sacramento, Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers.
For the Pistons, the highlight was the return of rookie Killian Hayes, who has missed most of the season because of a torn hip labrum. He last played on Jan. 4 and after avoiding surgery and rehabbing, Hayes played 20 minutes and was scoreless but logged five rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes.
Hayes looked to show no ill effects from the injury and played stints of nine minutes in the first half and 11 minutes bridging the third and fourth quarters. His passing was crisp, and his defense was good, as he continued to work his way back into playing shape.
“It felt good. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the court. Just being out there with my teammates, it felt good to be back,” Hayes said. “It’s a whole different team from when I last played. I feel like the game slowed down for me and allowed me to make the reads.”
The Pistons simply didn’t have much resistance after falling behind, 27-5, in the first seven minutes. Julius Randle dominated early, with 20 of his 29 points in the first quarter, along with seven rebounds for the Knicks (25-25), who swept the three-game season series.
The Knicks (25-25) hit nine 3-pointers in the first quarter, the most 3-pointers the Pistons have allowed in any quarter in franchise history.
Coach Dwane Casey was frustrated with the lack of intensity and hard play. He said he looked to his veterans to provide leadership but ended up having to sub all of them out to try to get the team back on track, to no avail.
“They played harder than we did; that’s the bottom line. They were more desperate, and we came in floating and trying to get open,” Casey said. “Their physicality, their want-to, they just outworked us. As a team, we have to decide who we want to be — do we want to be a team full of guys trying to get our numbers?
“I’ve got to coach better and get them ready. We didn’t play as a team on either end of the floor and we didn’t deserve to win that game — or even come close, which we didn’t.”
Reggie Bullock (22 points, with six 3-pointers) scored on a leaning drive and Randle’s drive with 4.7 seconds left capped a dominating opening period, with a 40-15 Knicks lead. They continued the run into the second quarter, with a jumper and a dunk by Taj Gibson (11 points), for a 29-point margin.
The Pistons (14-35) trimmed the lead to 60-41 at halftime, they but didn’t get much closer the rest of the way.
Jerami Grant finished with 16 points and four rebounds, Hamidou Diallo 14 points and Mason Plumlee nine points and 10 rebounds.
Hayes said he had been looking forward to returning and they had worked to make sure he was ready.
“That date has been set for a while now, to come back against New York. It was a lot of excitement and a lot of adrenaline but also a little bit of nervousness, because it’s been a while,” Hayes said. “Overall, I was just happy to be back.”
Getting Hayes back for the remainder of the season is one of the major focus points for the remainder of the season for the Pistons. Casey said he wanted to see Hayes play off the ball so that he could get a better feel for the game.
That may mean playing Hayes with Cory Joseph or another point guard, which worked out well.
“Coach wanted me to play a little more off the ball,” Hayes said. “We played with two ballhandlers, so Corey could bring (the ball) up or I could bring it up; it didn’t matter.”