Wojo: Pistons miss Cade and miss clutch shots, fall in spirited opener

Detroit News

Detroit — They showed fight and energy and some old-school defense. Several times they brought the Little Caesars Arena crowd to its feet, on the verge of an outburst, and then they’d miss.

The Pistons missed a chance in their opener Wednesday night, falling to the Bulls 94-88. They missed shots down the stretch, they missed 3-pointers, they misfired on passes. Mostly, they missed a guy who could take over when it mattered, and that guy was in street clothes on the bench.

No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham has an injured ankle that could sideline him another week, and that automatically dimmed the Pistons’ debut. They also missed offensive production from Killian Hayes, who was scoreless and didn’t play in the fourth quarter, struggling to find his game and his confidence.

The Pistons played defense, as Dwane Casey promised they would, against a high-powered Chicago offense. But when they needed someone for a takeover, there were turnovers, lots of them.

For starters, the Pistons are still looking for a closer.

“I thought we played well defensively, but our decisions offensively broke our backs,” Casey said. “We know we have a small margin for error. We missed some shots we normally make. Growing pains for us.”

First-game jitters? Maybe. Pistons royalty was in the house, from Isiah Thomas to Ben Wallace to Rip Hamilton.

Expected pain for a team early in the growth process? Sure. But reasons that were accepted last year should not be as readily accepted now. The four rookies from that 20-52 team are older, presumably wiser, and they’ll have to show it.

Scrapping for respect

The Pistons are a team scrapping for respect. The Bulls remade their roster and are expected to scrap for the playoffs. The disparity was apparent in the third and fourth quarters, as Zach Lavine (34 points), Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan made clutch shots.

The Pistons countered with Jerami Grant, who has proven capable of being the guy. But on a churning, potentially exciting roster, Casey is looking for other guys, while awaiting The Guy.

“Experience is huge,” said Grant, who led the team with 24 points. “We’re learning from this and growing during the season. We’ll be fine.”

The Pistons were fine at first, stuffing the Bulls while taking a 20-14 lead after one quarter, 44-40 at the half. That’s how they have to play, with beef and bluster, and Beef Stew set the tone early. Isaiah Stewart can be an updated version of Wallace but he’ll need help and time. So will Saddiq Bey, who attacked the basket more instead of settling for 3s.

MORE: Pistons come up a little short in season opener against Bulls, 94-88

The Pistons committed 10 of their 16 turnovers in the second half. The only guy who played the entire fourth quarter was veteran reserve Cory Joseph. Much was left to Grant, and he tried to force the offense, as the Pistons shot seven-for-23 in the final period.

Notably, Hayes sat the entire quarter. The first-round pick from a year ago was 0-for-6 shooting with five rebounds, two assists and two turnovers. Although he missed most of the preseason with an ankle injury and concussion, Casey said health wasn’t a factor.

Remember when the big issue was, how can the Pistons play Cunningham and Hayes both at the point? For now, they’d just like to see one of them run the show.

“My biggest concern was our scoring,” Casey said. “I knew we’d be able to compete and play hard, and that came to fruition. You can’t give them 22 points on turnovers when you’re struggling to score. I keep saying like a broken record, you gotta make sure you make the right decisions in crunch time.”

The Pistons ended up shooting a modest 40%, thanks to fine efforts from Stewart and Kelly Olynyk. But they were 21% (6-for-28) on 3s, and that’s the area GM Troy Weaver has tried desperately to address. The Pistons hit 35% last season, 22nd in the league, and guys like Grant, Bey, Olynyk, Trey Lyles and Frank Jackson are being counted on to lift that.

Waiting for Cunningham

It will take a while, we know. And it might get a huge boost with Cunningham’s arrival. There was nothing wrong with the Pistons’ tenacity in this one and no reason to be alarmed, although Hayes’ play is a concern.

Weaver watched the game four rows behind midcourt, standing the entire time, pacing occasionally. You think he’s a cool operator making deals, he showed no emotion as the Pistons built a nine-point lead, and none when they frittered it away. In a staggering stretch in the final 1:41 of the third quarter, the Pistons committed four turnovers and the Bulls nudged ahead 71-69.

Before training camp, Weaver joked he had 17 starters on his roster. In other words, five would be in flux, and that’s something Casey will have to whittle down. One good thing about having depth is, you have options. One bad thing about having depth is, it’s hard to figure out which option will rise at crunch time.

Ten Pistons played at least 15 minutes Wednesday night and nine committed at least one turnover. That spoiled a feisty defensive effort (Chicago had 17 turnovers and shot 30% on 3s), the type of effort that can win, if you don’t give it away.

“We brought that fight early,” Stewart said. “Third quarter, we made some mistakes, like five turnovers in a row, self-inflicted wounds. We’re definitely not brushing those off easily. This year, we know we’re better than that.”

Beef Stew is part of a Pistons’ stew with decent ingredients, in need of a flavor boost. It should be Cunningham eventually, and Grant consistently. In the meantime, others will have to stir when the stew starts boiling.


Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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