Pistons win preseason opener without starting backcourt; here are 4 observations

Detroit News

Detroit — It wasn’t quite the start to the preseason that most Pistons fans were hoping for, but it turned out to be pretty good, nonetheless.

The Pistons didn’t have their backcourt of the future with No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham or Killian Hayes, who both missed the game because of ankle injuries, but the Pistons played an inspired and entertaining game.

The shorthanded starters played well, but the second unit was the big surprise, helping the Pistons to a 115-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the preseason opener on Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena.

Jerami Grant had 19 points, Josh Jackson 16 points and Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph 14 points and six assists each. Saddiq Bey added 13 points, five rebounds and three assists.

BOXSCORE: Pistons 115, Spurs 105

The Pistons had a 17-point lead midway through the second quarter, but the Spurs rallied to take the lead. The Pistons finished the half with a 6-1 run and led, 54-51 at halftime.

Grant scored eight points during an offensive barrage early in the third quarter, sparking a 17-5 margin that helped the Pistons get the lead for good.

Here are some observations from the Pistons’ opening win:

New backcourt: The Pistons were without their starting backcourt, with Cunningham and Hayes each suffering a sprained ankle this week in training camp. Coach Dwane Casey said Hayes would be a game-time decision, but that neither injury was considered serious. It seems the medical staff is using an abundance of caution with the early injuries and they’re not chancing anything, for concern that it could become a lingering issue into the regular season.

The starting backcourt was Saben Lee and Rodney McGruder, likely a move by Casey to keep his second unit almost intact. The starting pair combined for 10 points, six rebounds and three assists.

Already ready: Bey looked to be in midseason form in his first preseason game. Bey showed his whole repertoire, including an improved ability to dribble-drive and create his own shot, which he also featured during Summer League.

Bey was primarily a 3-point threat last season, but with an added dimension to his game inside the arc, he’s becoming a bigger threat to score from anywhere on the court — and harder to defend. Through the first three quarters, he was 5-of-11 from the field and 1-of-4 on 3-pointers, but his made baskets had a higher degree of difficulty.

“My role is trying to help the team as much as possible in many different ways,” Bey said. “I try to get in the paint and play-make for others.”

Casey is looking for more playmakers and to diversify the offense, and the improvements Bey has made in his game are a good example of the development that the Pistons are looking to get from their young players.

“They’re going to run him off the (3-point) line,” Casey said. “They’re not going to let him sit there and line them up. He’s going to have a matchup in the post, which he took advantage of.”

Grant also had a strong start, with 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting in 24 minutes. He went 2-of 4 from 3-point range and seemed to get to the basket easily and under control.

Big debut, big cheers: Some Pistons fans began chanting, “We want Garza!” early in the game, wanting to see rookie Luka Garza make his debut. That opportunity came in the fourth quarter, when Garza and fellow rookie Jamorko Pickett checked in at the 7:28 mark, to a rousing ovation. On the first possession, Garza made a good defensive stop and boxed out to grab the rebound, which garnered more applause and cheers.

Garza’s blue-collar work ethic already has earned him a spot as a fan favorite. Each of the rookies made his first shot attempt, and Garza finished 2-of-3 from the field and got bigger fan support with each basket that he made.

Pickett’s mid-range jumper was a confidence-builder and each of them showed that he is ready to play in a bigger role if needed.

Second unit: The second unit was very productive and helped get things going in transition and in the halfcourt offense. Josh Jackson had the second-most field-goal attempts (12) and wasn’t overly aggressive in trying to find his shots. It was a good showing for the Canadian trio of Olynyk, Joseph and Trey Lyles (nine points, three rebounds), who played well together.

The second unit accounted for 62 points, including three players in double figures.

“That unit has a lot of vets and they do a great job in practice,” Bey said. “We battle every day in training camp.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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