With less than four minutes remaining in Thursday’s game, Isaiah Stewart knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Detroit Pistons a 99-98 lead.
On the other end of the floor, Stewart fouled Tim Hardaway Jr. on a corner 3-point attempt after the rookie big man recovered from falling out of bounds. Hardaway made all three free throws.
Stewart hit a second 3-pointer on the ensuing Pistons possession to regain the lead. But once again, Hardaway drew a foul while attempting a 3-pointer, when Hamidou Diallo over-committed with his jump to contest the shot. Hardaway made all three, to give the Dallas Mavericks a two-point advantage once again.
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Every Piston who played Thursday was under 25 years old. The medical staff opted to hold the veterans out of the game, due to rest, injury and injury management. Detroit’s young core kept pace with Dallas, which was without Luka Doncic due to an elbow injury and lost Kristaps Porzingis near the end of the third quarter due to knee soreness.
But youthful mistakes ultimately cost the Pistons down the stretch. The inopportune fouls, along with a pair of costly turnovers in the final two minutes and red-hot shooting from Hardaway, helped the Mavericks close the game with a 14-3 run and win, 115-105. The former Michigan standout scored a career-high 42 points.
The game will be valuable learning experience, Dwane Casey said. Nearly all of the Pistons’ young players showcased why they are being relied upon.
“You can’t have 18 turnovers and beat a team that’s playing for playoff position, upper playoff position in their conference,” Casey said. “And you’re right, down the stretch that’s where the mistakes were made. And that’s where young players usually make young mistakes, or experienced players wouldn’t make those mistakes. Again, it’s great experience for them. They will grow from them and we’ll be better off down the road. It hurts, it stings, because they competed their butts off down the stretch.”
Casey’s youngest starting lineup this season — Killian Hayes, Josh Jackson, Saddiq Bey, Sekou Doumbouya and Isaiah Stewart — made its third appearance on Thursday. All three rookies shined at different points of the game. Hayes got things going early by assisting four of Detroit’s first five baskets. Dallas called a quick timeout after Hayes’ fourth assist, which led to a Stewart layup and an early 10-4 lead.
Hayes’ playmaking is right on schedule, finishing with a career-high 11 assists. The No. 7 pick in last year’s draft continues to grow more comfortable commanding the offense. It wasn’t a perfect night for him, as he threw the ball out of bounds while trying to find Diallo for a corner 3-pointer with 29.9 seconds left. Hayes also missed five of his six shots and did not attempt a free throw. But his playmaking instincts are already strong, Casey said.
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“I think one thing he’s gotta continue to do is understand you have to be in great NBA condition, and the stamina level for a 19-year-old is not the same as an older player in the league who knows the speed of the game and the endurance you have to have,” Casey said. “He’ll get that. I think the summer will be great for him, being in the weight room, the conditioning program we’re going to have for him will be great. The young man has a great instinct for passing the ball. We probably missed a lot of shots we should’ve made that he made some passes to. He’s about where I expected, especially after the injury, after being out so long and coming to right now.”
Stewart scored a career-high 20 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking three shots. It was one of his best two-way performances off the season, and his blossoming outside touch led to two clutch 3-pointers late in the game. The Pistons ran the same action twice to get him two open looks against Dallas’ zone.
“Three-point shooting in his league is a premium,” Casey said. “Hardaway is a prime example. You can’t have enough of them and he gives us one at the center position.”
Detroit also got good performances from Frank Jackson (20 points), Bey (18 points, 4-for-8 from 3), Doumbouya (14 points), Diallo (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Josh Jackson (13 points). The Pistons shot 50.7% overall. But the miscues in the final minutes of the game, along with going 23-for-34 (67.6%) at the free-throw line, helped to highlight the disparity in experience level between the two teams.
In time, Casey believes games such as Thursday’s loss will be beneficial.
“That’s where the mistakes tell on you, and the experience of what to do in certain situations, how they’re playing you, how you play against the switch,” Casey said. “All those things, they come to a head in a tight situation in the fourth quarter. And you wish you could jump out there and help them and tell them exactly what to do, but only time will help them in those situations.”
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