Detroit — For some Pistons fans, the season is almost over and the last games don’t matter.
Nobody told Deividas Sirvydis that.
The rookie had a standout performance in the first half, before leaving the game because of a leg injury in the third quarter. Prior to that, Sirvydis turned some heads with his superb offensive play, but the shorthanded Pistons couldn’t stay with the Denver Nuggets in a 104-91 loss on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Sirvydis had a season-high 16 points in 19 minutes and was a catalyst for the Pistons sticking with the playoff-bound Nuggets as long as they did. The Pistons (21-50) had just eight active players because Isaiah Stewart and Sekou Doumbouya missed the game because of personal reasons.
“We had some looks and our ball movement was good in the first half,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Some of it is fatigue and guys playing big minutes.”
The starters had a good opening shift, jumping out to a 19-14 lead in the first seven minutes. Hamidou Diallo had 10 of his 18 points and Jahlil Okafor added six of his 13 points during that stretch, but the Pistons didn’t have an answer for MVP favorite Nikola Jokic, who was nearing a triple-double after the first quarter.
The Nuggets (47-24) responded to the Pistons’ early surge with a 13-0 run, with five points from Jokic (20 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists). Monte Morris (11 points) had a jumper and a lay-in and that run, which helped Denver take the lead for good.
Sirvydis ended that run with his first of four 3-pointers and added another with 15.9 seconds left in the first quarter. He had a flurry with another 3-pointer early in the second quarter, a drive and his third triple, giving him 14 of the Pistons’ 16 points during that stretch. After a free throw by Tyler Cook (17 points and five rebounds), Sirvydis had another lay-in to cap his unlikely scoring performance.
“That’s who he is; that’s what he does,” Casey said. “He’s a shooter, he’s a scorer and he’s a young kid. He’ll benefit from the G League and going back and forth. He needs the experience and strength and for his body to fill out.”
Sirvydis’ 16 points doubled his previous season high and with his shooting performance, showed more of the potential that the team hoped for when they traded up in the second round to pick Sirvydis.
The Pistons trailed, 57-53, at halftime and stayed close until Jokic got going again in the third quarter, with seven points in the first five minutes. By then, he had clinched his triple-double and was able to rest the remainder of the game after playing just 26 minutes.
The Nuggets took a double-digit lead on a 3-pointer by Austin Rivers at the 5:36 mark in the third quarter, then they added an 8-0 run and pushed it to 87-74 at the end of the third quarter. In the opening minutes of the final period, the Nuggets had a 9-2 spurt and they pulled away from there.
With the loss, the Pistons moved within one loss (or a win by the Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic) of clinching the best odds to get the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery.