It makes a big difference when the ball is moving around on offense and the shots are falling.
The Pistons had their worst game of the young season on Friday night, managing just 78 points in Cleveland. On the second night of a back-to-back, they put together their best all-around game of the season, blending good passing and deft shooting throughout the game, but especially in the fourth quarter.
The result was a thrilling, 127-121 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
The Pistons (3-9) finished their three-game trip with a pair of wins heading into a five-game homestand, beginning Monday against the Sacramento Kings.
In the process, they had season highs in points (127), field-goal percentage (54%), 3-point percentage (43%) and assists (34). It’s what coach Dwane Casey has been preaching all season about their league-worst shooting coming around at some point.
“We shot it with conviction, like we felt like and believed it was going in,” Casey said. “It’s the work the guys put in and it’s a fickle thing. Tonight, we bounced back and as ugly as last night was, tonight was a thing of beauty.”
The Pistons had seven players in double figures, led by Jerami Grant, who scored 16 of his 24 in the final period. He had the Pistons’ first six points in the quarter and a pair of 3-pointers midway through the fourth to help turn a two-point deficit into a 114-103 lead with 6:03 remaining.
The Raptors (7-7) rallied and trimmed the lead to 117-113 with a 7-0 run, including a putback by Pascal Siakam, who had 25 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, and a basket by rookie Scottie Barnes, the No. 4 overall pick.
Cade Cunningham (10 points and four assists) shot just 4-of-10 from the field — including 2-of-8 on 3-pointers, but he changed his approach in the final quarter, driving for two tough baskets in the final 2:15.
“He’s made for those types of moments,” said Isaiah Stewart, who tied his career high with 20 points. “He’s that kind of player.”
Siakam converted a three-point play to get within three with 2:04 remaining. Grant hit two free throws and Toronto’s Goran Dragic (16 points and five rebounds) added two free throws to keep the margin at three.
The Pistons put the game away with a decisive 6-0 run in the final 1:23, with a double-crossover drive by Cunningham and four free throws by Saddiq Bey (16 points, eight rebounds and five assists) to extend the lead to nine.
Killian Hayes had what could be the best overall game of his career, with 13 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists. It was emblematic of the unselfish play that permeated throughout the roster — and it was a night-and-day difference from Friday’s debacle.
“The ball movement, the 34 assists, where we’re just trusting each other and trusting the pass. Last night, the ball was sticking and it’s nothing malicious. It’s just getting used to the speed of the game, the speed to the NBA and used each other,” Casey said. “It’s a rhythm thing, and if a guy’s out there spaced out at the 3-point line, and he knows that pass is going to be swung to him, you can get your hands and eyes and body in a rhythm to be able to take that 3.
“If you drive in there, you’re ready and it doesn’t come to you, the next time, you’re ready and it doesn’t come to you and you lose that rhythm from shooting. That’s part of our issue, and hopefully, we can cure it and continue with it going into next week.”
The Raptors were playing without scoring leader Fred VanVleet and they looked to have a big enough lead midway through the third quarter after a jumper by Gary Trent Jr. (23 points) for an 83-74 lead at the 5:53 mark Bey answered with a 3-pointer and after a technical foul on Siakam, Cory Joseph made the free throw. Stewart made three straight baskets to get the Pistons within 85-84 with 3:40 left in the quarter, but the Raptors scored six straight points, capped by a runner by Trent.
The Pistons scored the next seven points, including a 3-pointer by Trey Lyles and four free throws by Frank Jackson, who had a season-best 14 points. The Pistons were within 95-93 entering the fourth quarter after Joseph’s jumper.