While everyone was expecting fireworks from LeBron James vs. Isaiah Stewart Round 2, the action came from just about everywhere else on the floor. Ultimately, the Pistons found themselves in a hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of, with a fourth-quarter rally falling short and falling 110-106 at Staples Center on Sunday night.
The Detroit Pistons surrendered a 17-0 run in the third quarter, but got a big spark from their bench and scratched and clawed their way back into the game. The damage proved too severe, but they at least showed some fight and some offensive flow that was reminiscent of last season.
Jerami Grant led the Pistons with 32 points including four 3-pointers and a couple of explosive dunks. Frank Jackson had 17 points off the bench and is continuing to push for an expanded role and could even be in line to join the starting unit if Dwane Casey decides to tinker with the lineup at some point.
The issue for Detroit was unsurprising — they had no answer for the size, speed and power of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. James led all scorers with 33 points and added nine dimes for good measure. Davis had an easy 24 points on looks at the rim, step-back jumpers and a pair of treys. Westbrook even had one of his patented efficient shooting games as he faced little resistance in getting into the teeth of Detroit’s defense and scored easily against Detroit’s undersized reserve units.
The game was knotted at 56 when the Lakers went on a run that made it seem like it was going to be a laugher. Los Angeles was scoring at will in the paint and Detroit could get nothing going offensively. Eventually, the deficit was 77-58 and you were just hoping the Pistons would break 90 points on the evening.
Both teams went to their bench unit and that is when the Pistons decided to make a game of it thanks to some shot-making and playmaking from Trey Lyles and Frank Jackson. Lyles hit his first four shots and gave the Pistons some much-needed energy. A Cunningham 3-pointer trimmed the lead to six and it was 97-91 with 5:48 remaining.
The Pistons stayed small and the Lakers decided to start relentlessly attacking the basket. James hit a layup, Davis hit a layup, James hit a bank hook and Westbrook knifed in for a finger roll to stretch the lead back to 11 at the 3:22 mark.
The Pistons eventually got it all the way down to 4 points but just couldn’t get over the hump. They had built themselves too big a hill to climb.
Individually, the Pistons had several bright spots and the lingering red flags that showed you that this season is going to be ugly throughout with little hope that their fundamental issues are fixable.
Cunningham secured another double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but he’s still a high-volume shooter whose shots are not going in very often. He’s also continuing to make poor decisions with the ball in his hands (he had five turnovers tonight). However, there are a handful of possessions where he displays a brilliant basketball IQ and awareness of how to dribble guys open and make the difficult pass.
He had a great bounce in the paint to a rolling Stewart that got him a trip to the charity stripe and he had some great looks into cutters. He needs to start hitting shots, obviously, but he does enough to make you just grit your teeth and wait (hope) for better days ahead.
Speaking of passing, man, it was nice to have Killian Hayes back in the lineup tonight. While Hayes is a light-scoring guard that can sometimes go unnoticed, his absence has been felt recently with the lack of ball movement and offensive cohesion. He was flying all over the court tonight and really moved the ball well. Hayes finished with 6 points and 8 assists, and is continuing to build chemistry with Cunningham as the two primary initiators of the offense.
Stewart didn’t do any pushing, shoving of trash-talking tonight in his first game against the Lakers since James busted up his face, but he played stout defense and forced Davis into several tough looks. Unfortunately for Stewart and the Pistons, this was a night when Davis was hitting all those tough looks and making it look easy.
Jackson added 5 assists to go with his 17 points and continued to build some synergy with Hayes and Cunningham during Detroit’s comeback effort. With Saddiq Bey continuing to struggle on offense (6 points on 9 shots tonight), I wonder if it would make sense to tinker with the starting lineup or rotations a bit.
Bey is typically the odd man out with Cunningham and Grant taking on that playmaker roll and Hayes serving as an initiator. That has led Bey to not get many shots up, and when he does get scoring opportunities, he’s still turning down open perimeter looks to try and do something with a high degree of difficulty as a “playmaker.”
It’s fine if Bey wants to expand his game beyond the 3-and-D stylings he showed in his rookie season, but that role and him learning the contours of it might work best off the bench for a bit. Jackson’s quick-trigger 3-point shooting is always needed, and he’s also one of the few players willing to go at the rim like a guided missile and make something happen.
In the end, it was another loss for Detroit, but another competitive one at least. Now we wait until Tuesday when the Pistons face former great Chauncey Billups and the Portland Trail Blazers. Maybe that’ll be the Cunningham breakout game we’ve all been waiting for.