PHILADELPHIA — For six minutes, the Detroit Pistons managed to do what they haven’t been able to do consistently — if at all— through the early portion of the season. They moved the ball freely and took care of it. 3-point shots hit. The offense had a rhythm, an assertiveness.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Pistons trailed the Philadelphia 76ers by 22 points. A 24-7 Detroit run whittled the deficit down to five with 19.6 seconds left. It took a clutch 3-pointer by Joel Embiid, as well as a questionable foul call on Kelly Olynyk, for the Sixers to escape with a 110-102 win on their home floor and for the Pistons to fall to 0-4, the NBA’s only winless team.
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The loss illustrated what head coach Dwane Casey said after the first game of the season — Detroit’s margin for error is small. Thursday was, in several ways, one of their strongest performances of the season. They didn’t have a great shooting night,, but they shook off a season-long slump by knocking down seven of 11 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter. They kept their turnovers under control, committing just three in the second half. And several players stepped up to help the Pistons make a late push.
But beyond those factors, Casey credited the late comeback attempt to a commitment to doing the little things well. Detroit couldn’t overcome enough of its early mistakes to win, but the team has positives to take away.
“Our game comes all the way down to the little things,” Casey said. “It’s not the 3-point shot, it’s not the dunks, it’s the little things. Proper screening, proper spacing, proper passing angle. All those things that we work on are things that kick our butt. I like the fact that we only had three turnovers in the second half, that was big time. It was a step forward for us growing. The little things that we don’t do, until we continue to do those and do them longer, it’s going to be bad for us.”
Saddiq Bey, who entered the night shooting 23.5% from 3, made four of five attempts in the fourth after going 0-for-4 through the first three quarters. Killian Hayes was also a key contributor during a late 16-1 run that cut the deficit to single digits. During a 70-second stretch in the fourth quarter, he grabbed an offensive rebound and laid the ball back in, knocked down an open 3 and found Bey for a corner 3-pointer. (His other fourth-quarter assist during the run was to Olynyk for another 3).
Overall, Hayes and Bey scored or assisted on 22 of Detroit’s final 24 points. Though the Pistons only shot 13-for-39 from 3 on the night, it was still their best percentage (33.3%) of the season and a season-high in attempts.
“We’re not going to win many games if we don’t make 3’s,” Casey said. “Guys have the green light, and I thought tonight we took them with conviction. Good spacing, good timing. Saddiq, I love seeing the way he shot the ball freely, with a free mind. And I like the way we shared the ball in the second half. Second quarter, I thought it stuck a little bit. First quarter, it moved around, but we’ve got to get long periods of play where the ball’s moving around and nobody cares who scores.”
Entering the fourth quarter, Detroit was just 6-for-28 from 3. Nine of their 13 turnovers came in the first half. Bey finished strong, but he missed three of his first four free throw attempts in the first quarter. And Jerami Grant missed a pair of free throws in the fourth that would’ve cut the deficit to 101-96.
The Pistons hope to carry their fourth-quarter momentum into Saturday’s home game against the Orlando Magic. It’s unclear if they will have Cade Cunningham, whose sprained angle has him practicing with the Pistons’ G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise, this week in preparation for his NBA debut. But even without Cunningham, the Pistons have lessons they can apply.
“We just have our 10 toes down and know that we want to win every game,” Bey said. “If there’s still time on the clock, we’re going to try as hard as we can to come back and win and not play the score. Play a full 48 minutes.
“If we can play like that, that last stretch we had in the fourth, if we can start games like that and finish games like that, we’ll put ourselves in a good position every game,” he continued. “I think it was encouraging, we needed that. We’ve still got 78 games left, so we’re still optimistic in how we want to play.”
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