Had the Pistons pulled off a win with only nine players available, it would have been one of their best wins of the season.
No Jerami Grant. No Mason Plumlee. No Cory Joseph.
No veterans, really.
The oldest active player was 24-year-old Josh Jackson, and playing with the young group, the Pistons still were in the game down to the final minutes.
It took a late push from the Charlotte Hornets to hold off the Pistons, 107-94, on Saturday night at Spectrum Center.
Frank Jackson had a season-high 25 points and seven rebounds, Saddiq Bey added 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists and Killian Hayes 10 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Pistons (19-45), who lost for the fifth time in the last six games.
“We came out (playing poorly),” Hayes said. “We weren’t happy, the coach wasn’t happy, so we knew in the second half we had to step forward to compete in the game, and we fought till the very end.
“They got the win and made some tough shots, but we need to play like this the whole game.”
The Pistons were without almost half of their roster, with the veterans sitting for the short road trip, leaving the young players to handle the Hornets.
And they almost did.
The Hornets (31-32) opened the fourth quarter with a 79-70 lead, after the Pistons finished the third quarter with a 10-2 run. Jackson had a 3-pointer, starting a 10-2 run that trimmed the lead to 83-80 with 9:30 left.
Terry Rozier (29 points and seven rebounds) and Miles Bridges (27 points and seven rebounds) steadied the ship for the Hornets, combining to score the next 13 points. Rozier had a pair of 3-pointers and Bridges added another, before Hayes ended the run with a 3-pointer, trimming the lead to 96-83.
Bey scored the Pistons’ next eight points, with back-to-back 3-pointers, to get within 98-91 with 2:08 left. The Hornets closed the door with two 3-pointers by Rozier in the final two minutes.
The Pistons increased the level of difficulty because Isaiah Stewart was in foul trouble for most of the game. He got his second foul at 6:58 in the first quarter, his third at 8:18 of the third quarter and fourth at 8:52 of the third period.
“I love the kid,” Casey said. “That guy makes winning plays. He got some tough fouls but that took our spirit. He’s our spirit on the floor, our spirit and toughness on the court.”
The Pistons were ahead, 18-17, in the first quarter until the Hornets reeled off the final nine points of the period, with a lay-in by LaMelo Ball, who had 11 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in his first game back from a wrist injury that’s had him sidelined since March 20.
The Hornets led, 26-18, heading to the second and the Pistons rallied to tie it at 30 and moved ahead on a dunk by Sekou Doumbouya (nine points and five rebounds). The Hornets got a lay-in by Bridges and a 3-pointer by Malik Monk, starting a 25-4 run, keyed by 10 points from Bridges.
“You can’t make enough twos against a team like this, who has prolific scorers like Rozier. Bridges now is shooting at a 40% clip and (P.J.) Washington is shooting at a 40% clip,” Casey said. “You’ve got to be able to take and make 3s and we didn’t do that in the first half.”
Jackson scored six straight points but Monk (11 points) finished the half with a three-point play for a 58-42 lead at halftime.