Facing a shorthanded team with only its superstar to lead them for the second time in as many games, Detroit was defeated at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers 109-98.
Unlike the blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, however, this one came with some bright spots.
Detroit finally started off on the right foot in Thursday’s game, getting out to a 20-12 lead early in the first quarter. The starting unit looked more cohesive, spearheaded by Cade Cunningham taking on a noticeably larger role as the primary point guard, while Killian Hayes spent more time playing as the off-guard.
Unfortunately, the encouraging early signs and a 64-point first-half tally were completely negated by ice-cold shooting in the second half, sloppy ball-handling and decision making and an inability to make big stops.
But let’s start with what went right for the Pistons. Giving primary ball-handling duties to Cade seemed to ignite a much-needed spark for the Pistons’ offense, as Cunningham, Hayes and Jerami Grant looked good early, helping the team take the early lead. It was an encouraging stretch from the starting unit, as it was the most chemistry the group had exhibited all year.
The early lead was countered by a 19-7 Philadelphia run once the Pistons’ bench started integrating into the game, led by Seth Curry and his 16 first-quarter points. Jerami Grant and the bench kept things competitive, as Grant’s 12 first-quarter points and Kelly Olynyk’s first-quarter buzzer-beater gave the Pistons a 32-31 lead going into the second quarter.
The second quarter brought the continuation of the Pistons’ best half of the year, as Cunningham and Hayes kept looking good with the former taking on more initiating duties. Grant continued to get buckets, pouring in 22 first-half points as the Pistons led 66-63 at the break.
The second quarter also brought this SportsCenter Top 10-worthy highlight, courtesy of Isaiah Stewart:
Perhaps more encouraging was the fact that the Pistons shot 9-of-19 from three in the first half, good for 47.4% from downtown. It was said that this team could look a lot better if they would just knock down their 3-pointers, and the first half proved that to be true.
Possibly the only real negative of the first half was that Cunningham’s shot continued to look rusty, as he went 0-of-4 from 3-point range and 1-of-8 from the field.
Cunningham’s search for his first NBA 3-pointer did not last long, however. After the 76ers started the second half with an 11-2 run to take a 74-68 lead, Cunningham answered with a pure 3-pointer from the logo to beat the shot clock. Pistons Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief seeing its prized rookie finally knock one down from deep, as Cunningham missed the first 18 3-pointers of his NBA career.
Though Cunningham was able to get his first 3-pointer to go in the third quarter, the spotty long-range shooting of the Pistons as a whole returned in the period, as the team went 2-of-11 from deep while Philadelphia took the lead. The 76ers went into the fourth quarter ahead by a score of 86-82.
While the first three quarters may have been the most encouraging 36 minutes of the young season, the next 12 minutes of the game were the same kind of terrible for the Pistons. The 76ers got off to an 11-0 run to start the quarter, putting Detroit behind the 8-ball. To make matters worse, it was reported that Killian Hayes was questionable to return with a thumb injury. Hayes did return later in the quarter with a wrap on his thumb.
The Pistons were never able to fully recover from the big 76ers run at the start of the quarter, as Philadelphia was able to keep the starting unit away from striking distance for the rest of the game. The return of the 3-point woes was among the primary culprits of the loss, as the Pistons finished 11-of-36 from deep after an encouraging first half.
At the final buzzer, Detroit came away with its seventh loss in eight games, while Philadelphia improved to 7-2 on the young season. Joel Embiid finished with a modest stat line of 19 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while Seth Curry and Tyrese Maxey combined for 43 points on 17-of-26 shooting from the field.
For the Pistons, Jerami Grant led the way with 27 points, six rebounds and four assists on 11-of-22 shooting. Cunningham had the best game of his young career, tallying 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, while the Pistons offense operated much more efficiently with Cunningham as the primary point guard and Hayes complementing him as an off guard. Hayes finished with 10 points on 2-of-3 3-point shooting, as Kelly Olynyk was the only other Piston to hit double-digit points, tallying 11 of them.
In general, it was the most encouraging performance we’ve seen from the Pistons since Cade’s return, and really since the season began. There were certainly some negatives to take away once again, but this time they came with some positives. It’s worth noting that, even in a game where the offense seemed to be functioning more smoothly, the Pistons still couldn’t top 100 points.
The Pistons will be back at home tomorrow for a showdown with the Brooklyn Nets at 6:30 p.m.