The Detroit Pistons opened their 2021-22 season with a game reminiscent of last season. They played energetic defense and exchanged blows with the Chicago Bulls, a team that’s well-positioned to make the playoffs in a tough Eastern Conference.
Like last year, the Pistons were doomed by mistakes brought by youth, such as missed shots and inopportune turnovers. They’re the kind of mistakes that are fixable and avoidable, suggesting the team will eventually turn the corner.
Despite the 94-88 loss, there was an air of optimism during their postgame interviews. The Pistons committed 16 turnovers, feeding 22 Bulls points. Detroit was just 6-for-28 from 3-point range, with several wide-open misses. But they were in control — or at least competitive — for much of the game, holding the lead for 29:09.
WEDNESDAY’S GAME: Pistons fade late against Bulls in opener, 94-88
THE SEASON AHEAD: Pistons have young, exciting core. Is that enough for playoffs?
“We played well defensively,” coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “The decisions offensively broke our back. Our margin for error is small. They made some tough shots, and we missed a lot. It sounds simplistic, but we missed a lot of shots we normally make. Some wide-open 3’s. Again, that’s growing pains for us. I think they’re a very powerful offensive team. They have a bunch of shot-makers. I thought we made it tough on them, and I applaud our effort. Again, it goes down in those situations and the decisions we make with the basketball in crucial situations.”
The game’s momentum shifted at the end of the third quarter. The Pistons committed three turnovers in the final minute of the period, giving the Bulls a 71-69 lead entering the fourth. Detroit had an opportunity to pull away before that, with a seven-point lead midway through the third. They retook the lead in the fourth quarter, but the Bulls closed the game with a 16-6 swing over the final 7:17.
The Pistons got uncharacteristically poor performances from many of their best shooters. Saddiq Bey and Kelly Olynyk both went 0-for-4 on 3’s. Frank Jackson was 1-for-5. As a team, they likely won’t shoot 21.4% from 3 for the entire season.
Detroit struggled with shooting and turnovers last season, and they addressed both weaknesses during the offseason by adding Olynyk and Trey Lyles, and drafting Cade Cunningham. Cunningham could still be more than a week away from making his NBA debut, but the Pistons have the needed experience and talent to make better decisions with the ball, and shoot better.
“We’re definitely not brushing those off easily,” Isaiah Stewart said. “We know last year where we were at with turnovers. This year we know we’re better than that. We work on that every day. We talk about turnovers every day in practice. We gotta take care of the ball.”
Otherwise, Casey said he liked what he saw from his young team. They held the Bulls to 14 points in the first quarter, and under 100 points overall. Chicago shot just 7-for-23 from behind the arc, committed 17 turnovers and needed a late run to pull away with what had been a back-and-forth game.
“On the defensive end, we came ready, I think we held them to 14 points in the first quarter,” Jerami Grant said. “Throughout the game we did a good job on the defensive end. We just have to make a couple more shots, and I think we will be fine.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.