Las Vegas — Through the first two games of Summer League, Cade Cunningham didn’t have a breakout game that one would expect from a No. 1 overall pick.
He did in the third game.
If there was any doubt about whether Cade Cunningham was a high-level scorer, he ended it Friday night with a showcase performance that included 24 points and seven 3-pointers. He was sensational in the second half, helping the Pistons hold on for a 93-87 victory over the Knicks at Thomas & Mack Center.
Cunningham followed his 20-point performance against No. 2 pick Jalen Green with a barrage of outside shots, and another strong defensive performance. The Pistons looked strong at the start but had to hold on in the final minute to avoid blowing another big first-half lead.
Here are some observations from the Pistons’ win:
► Cunningham looked much smoother on the offensive end, primarily as a scorer. He was patient at the 3-point line and didn’t force shots. He turned things up in the fourth quarter, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers after the Knicks had trimmed the lead to single digits. Throughout the game, when the Pistons needed a basket or someone to just calm things down, Cunningham came through time after time. That could be his most impressive trait, even beyond the shooting.
“Any time the game is close or in crunch time, I kind of feel a magnet from my hands to the ball — I want the ball in my hands,” Cunningham said. “Yeah, I’ve been playing for a long time and whenever it gets to those times, I kind of feel it, and just kind of want to be an outlet for my team a little bit.
“I want to be the guy that could be leaned on and trusted. So, I know that you have to be brave in those decisions and those times. You’ve got to have some nuts and step up and go get the ball in those times. I want to be that guy that (convinced) my team that I was up for the challenge and make a play.”
► Hayes didn’t have a stellar offensive game, but the big takeaway was the pair of 3-pointers that he hit. He had his feet set and was in a good shooting rhythm when he took the two spot-up opportunities.
He went 0-of-6 from beyond the arc in his first two games. The long-range shot continues to be a work in progress but seeing that he’s figuring out some of the issues is an improvement. Defensively he’s had the same intensity and was integral in creating some havoc for the Knicks backcourt.
► Garza had another strong showing, getting the start at center. He was solid on the boards and carved out space in the paint to score a couple of easy baskets. The Pistons had struggled at the center position in the first two games, but he had the best performance of any of their big men so far, with 12 rebounds.
Garza is making a strong case to get a roster spot, or at least the second two-way contract. Defensively, he’s still out of position at times, but with his size and strength, he’s able to overcome some of that deficiency.
“I just loved his toughness, his IQ. He’s been a guy who’s been ready for us each and every day in practice, and I just want to get a different look,” DuBois said. “I thought he came out and really responded well with his energy, his effort, his consistency, and then his toughness.”
► Pickett had a game for himself, making an early statement with 13 points in the first quarter, jump-starting the Pistons’ early rally. Pickett had played sparingly in the first two games, but with Sekou Doumbouya missing the game because of a family commitment, he jumped into the starting lineup and made an impact.
Pickett had three 3-pointers in the opening period and started the game with an alley-oop from Bey. He showed throughout the game that he can be an asset offensively, and he likely earned himself another start in Saturday’s game against the Lakers.
► The Pistons had 18 turnovers, and in some instances where Hayes or Cunningham was out of the game, they had trouble even getting the ball past halfcourt. Toward the end of the game, they struggled to finish the game simply by handling the ball and waiting for the fouls to come. The Knicks pressured them, but with that many turnovers, they almost lost a game in the final minutes that they had clearly in hand. They had 20 turnovers in the opener, which led to the loss to the Thunder.