Experienced second unit thrives during Detroit Pistons’ 115-105 preseason victory

Detroit Free Press

Dwane Casey’s 2021-22  Detroit Pistons’ rotation was expected to feature an experienced bench unit while starting multiple 20-year-olds.

That came to fruition Wednesday. The Pistons opened their preseason slate with a 115-105 victory against the San Antonio Spurs, largely because of strong play from their veteran reserves. Three of Detroit’s five players who reached double digits came off of the bench, and their chemistry and experience helped the Pistons bounce back after losing a 17-point lead in the second quarter.

Josh Jackson was Detroit’s second-leading scorer with 16 points, and Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk each scored 14 points and dished six assists. It wasn’t Detroit’s normal rotation, as Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham and Frank Jackson all sat out with ankle injuries.

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But it was a good sign nonetheless.

“They’re better players,” Casey said after the game. “They know how to play, they have a rhythm from being together for so long, Cory and Kelly. Going into training camp, we knew that. Just was impressed the way they came in and gave us IQ, experience and the know-how in that situation. That’s part of growth with the other guys. Again, I think the first unit will have a little bit more cohesion when we get everybody back and in their right positions.”

The Spurs used a 25-7 run to take the lead midway through the second quarter, after the Pistons closed the first quarter with a 39-22 lead. But Detroit regained control after halftime. Trey Lyles (nine points, three rebounds) knocked down a pair of 3-pointers midway through the third quarter to extend the lead to 12, and Josh Jackson, Hamidou Diallo and rookies Luka Garza and Jamorko Pickett all contributed down the stretch.

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The backbone of the second unit is the Canadian trio of Joseph, Olynyk and Lyles. All three of them have experience playing together for Team Canada, and Joseph and Olynyk are childhood friends from Toronto.

“We’re all more experienced in this league, I think, in the second unit because we’ve been playing for a while,” Joseph said. “And obviously I have a lot of experience playing with Kelly and Trey from Team Canada in the summertime all the time. It’s easier to click for sure.”

Casey went 12 deep into his rotation Wednesday, and that’ll be closer to the norm during preseason. The priority now is to get as many looks at the roster as he can before the season opens Oct. 20. Hayes and Cunningham will eventually return, and Cunningham in particular will have to get up to speed after missing most of training camp with a sprained ankle.

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But the second unit lived up to its billing Wednesday, and the Pistons are confident that they will keep their momentum going into the regular season.

“We have experience in that second unit. We can use that to our advantage,” Joseph said.  We have guys that have high IQs on both units, but on that second unit, the games complement each other well. I’m very excited about it. It’s just one game so far, preseason, so we’ve got to continue to work and get better. But very excited.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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