Detroit Pistons trying to see the forest, not the trees, after collapse vs. Heat

Detroit Free Press

On paper, the Detroit Pistons‘ losses have been games most would expect a rebuilding team to lose.

Two against the Chicago Bulls. Two against the Brooklyn Nets. Two against the Philadelphia 76ers. One each against the Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and so on.

Only a handful of losses stick out as bad ones thus far. Their 22-point home loss against a Sacramento Kings team that fired its head coach, Luke Walton, earlier this week might be the worst of the year. Otherwise, the season has played out predictably. Their four wins — against the Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers — were all against teams near or beneath them in the standings. Each seems unlikely to make the playoffs.

By all accounts, the Pistons are where they’re supposed to be.

They’re in the second year of a full rebuild. Four of their top seven players in total minutes played were drafted in 2020 or 2021. A fifth player in that list, Frank Jackson, was on a two-way contract last season. They’re young and inexperienced, and young, inexperienced teams don’t win many games in the NBA.

That hasn’t made the losses easier to stomach, though. Not for Dwane Casey, the players on the roster or for a fanbase that hasn’t seen a playoff win in more than 13 years.

Fans don’t want to watch the process. They want results. And the Pistons are still a ways away from showing the fruits of their rebuild.

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“We have to be positive,” Casey said, not long after the Heat defeated the Pistons 100-92 in a come-from-behind effort. “Everyone wants the gold trophy, as my daughter calls it, every year. But it takes time and patience. Again, we’re all such competitors. But I see the big picture. I see where we are. I know we’re in a rebuilding situation.”

Tuesday’s result wasn’t particularly surprising. Miami has two players currently playing at an All-Star level in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, and a former six-time All-Star in Kyle Lowry. The Heat are 12-6, tied for second in a competitive Eastern Conference.

Detroit was shorthanded, especially at center. Killian Hayes has been one of Detroit’s best perimeter defenders and shooters his season, but he’s resting until Friday, at least, with a left thumb sprain. Kelly Olynyk will miss at least four more weeks with a knee sprain, and Isaiah Stewart served his first game of a two-game suspension after an altercation Sunday with the Lakers.

The Pistons rolled with rookie center Luka Garza, the 52nd pick in the 2021 draft, in the starting lineup. He picked up five fouls in 17 minutes, but also contributed enough on offense to help the Pistons maintain their momentum in the first half.

In reality, the loss was frustrating in the way it played out. The Pistons were the better team through three quarters, leading by as many as 12 points and carrying a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter. They moved the ball well, knocked down open shots and defended.

Then things fell apart in the fourth quarter. Tyler Herro scored 14 of his 31 points in the final period, powering the Heat to a 21-4 run, to pull away with a comeback win at Little Caesars Arena.

Cade Cunningham has proved himself as a closer not even a month into his rookie season. He’s had a fair share of brilliant moments that have shown why he was drafted first overall. But he’s still a rookie.

After logging his first career triple-double on Sunday, he scored six points, dished six assists and missed eight of his 10 shot attempts Tuesday. Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey shot a combined 12-for-33. Detroit’s three-best offensive players couldn’t get it going. They led the Heat in spite of it, until the Heat turned the pressure up late.

It was the second time this week the Pistons have let a lead slip away in the fourth quarter. They led a healthy Lakers team by 17 points near the end of the third quarter on Sunday. But Los Angeles outscored them 37-17 in the fourth, behind a spirited effort from Anthony Davis. On Tuesday, they were outscored by the Heat 33-16 in the fourth.

The Pistons led by double-digits in both, despite being undermanned in both. There are silver linings in close, back-and-forth games against contending teams.

It’s tougher to find silver linings in fourth-quarter collapses.

“They turned it up, just like the Lakers did in the fourth quarter,” Casey said. “And that’s what we gotta make sure we get tougher with the ball and have a stronger constitution when we drive in there. Everything you do has gotta be a lot tougher in the fourth quarter. That same play, same shot you take in the first three quarters is a little bit different against championship teams, and that’s what we gotta learn to execute against, play against, fight against, whatever it is.”

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Lowry, 35 years old, is a core piece for the Heat. He scored seven points, dished seven assists and blocked two shots in the final period to help them close out the comeback victory. Casey coached Lowry for six seasons when they were both with the Raptors, and the two men have a close relationship.

It took time for Lowry, now an NBA champion, to become the star he is today. During his second season in Toronto in 2013-14, and eighth in the NBA, his scoring average jumped from 11.6 points to 17.9 points. His efficiency jumped with it. The following season marked his first of six consecutive All-Star appearances. He’s a stout defender and respected leader. A difference-maker. He started just 30 games during his first four seasons.

Casey preaches patience because he’s seen firsthand how long it can take to get to the next level. He knows it won’t happen overnight.

“We have young men who are going to be exactly like that,” Casey said. “(Lowry) wasn’t that way his first three to four years in the league.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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