In the final minutes on Tuesday night, the Detroit Pistons had a shot.
They trailed the Charlotte Hornets by one with five minutes to play, and when Killian Hayes went to the free-throw line with less than 10 seconds to play, they had a chance to tie the game. It didn’t work out, and the Hornets held on to beat the Pistons, 102-99, at Little Caesars Arena.
But the fact the Pistons were in position was nothing short of remarkable. It was their second game in as many nights, and they were without four of their top five scorers.
Enter Hamidou Diallo and Sekou Doumbouya. Not exactly the names expected to come up with thinking about game-winning performances, but Diallo scored a career-high 35 points on 14-for-22 shooting while Doumbouya had 20 points and eight rebounds in a season-high 34 minutes.
What’s even more impressive is the pair is performing while fasting for Ramadan. Diallo and Doumbouya both practice Islam, and during Ramadan, which runs this year from April 12 to May 12, Muslims are required to fast from sunup and sundown.
“Tonight, his all-around game, he played with a lot of force,” Pistons coach Dwayne Casey said of Doumbouya. “And bless his heart, he’s going through his Ramadan and so he hadn’t been able to eat. He and (Diallo) both were snacking over there on the bench and so that was impressive in itself for those young men who are playing that hard during their holiday.”
The duo hardly seemed to be lacking energy on Tuesday night, as Doumbouya scored nine points in the third quarter and Diallo kept the Pistons in the game in the fourth, scoring 14 and pulling Detroit within two points with 31.7 seconds to play with a deep 3-pointer.
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“Fasting, it’s definitely tough,” Diallo admitted. “It’s something that culturally, we just buy into and we come out here, we know what we’re doing. We know all of our teammates support us, the coaches support us, and we just try to lock in. The time keeps going back and back, so for me and Sekou it’s been tough. … We’re just going to keep fighting and keep pushing through.”
Added Doumbouya, “I just know that I’ve got to push through, pay more attention to detail and be locked in … so you’re not wasting your energy.”
Not only is it imperative that Diallo and Doumbouya not waste any energy during Ramadan, they’re also dealing with a tough stretch in the schedule. Tuesday’s game was the fourth in six days for the Pistons (19-47) and they’ll play three more games — Thursday at home against the Grizzlies, Saturday in Philadelphia and back home Sunday against the Bulls — by the end of the week.
And with a short-handed roster Diallo, in his third season out of Kentucky, and Doumbouya, a second-year pro, are dealing with a heavier workload than they’ve been used to.
“The mental fog is there,” Casey said. “I told him the day before the game that the older players have been through this. Now you’re playing starters minutes for the first time in your career, and it takes a toll. That’s why you’ve got to not be in good shape, you’ve got to be in great condition. You’ve got to get to rest and you’ve got to be a professional off the floor and eat right.
“It all tells on you during these times when you’re playing starter minutes for the first time, and that’s exactly what we’re going through right now. Again, it’s no excuse. All the other rookies and young players are going through it in the league that are starting. But I was impressed with how we competed tonight.”
Grizzlies at Pistons
►Tipoff: 8 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
►TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
►Outlook: The Grizzlies (32-32) have lost four of their last five as they continue to battle to make the playoffs. Former Michigan State standout Jaren Jackson Jr. is averaging 13.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in six games since returning from knee surgery. He was expected to sit out Memphis’ game at Minnesota on Wednesday before returning to face the Pistons.