Detroit — The Pistons are a different team when their shots are falling and they’re taking care of the ball. They’re pretty much the same team that they’ve shown all season when they turn the ball over and don’t shoot well.
Those two extremes were the story of an encouraging first half, then a flip-the-script third quarter that helped the Oklahoma City Thunder erase a double-digit lead in the third quarter and get within three points in the fourth quarter.
The Pistons seemed to regain control midway through the fourth quarter, but the Thunder rallied for a stunning 114-103 victory on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Cade Cunningham had a career-high 28 points with 12 rebounds and six assists, Jerami Grant 20 points, five rebounds and five assists and Saddiq Bey 15 points and seven rebounds for the Pistons (4-19), who lost their ninth straight game.
“It’s disappointing, the fact we played so well in the first two quarters and we forgot about playing defense in the fourth quarter,” coach Dwane Casey said. “They got where they wanted to go. It’s a 48-minute game, and it’s very indicative of being a young team.”
The Pistons led, 81-72, entering the fourth quarter and padded the margin with an opening 3-pointer by Trey Lyles. The Thunder rattled off nine straight points, with a lay-in by Josh Giddey (12 points and four assists) and a dunk by Kenrich Williams.
According to Sportradar, the Thunder are the first team since 1996-97 to begin the fourth quarter by making their first 15 field-goal attempts.
With that momentum, Oklahoma City kept chipping away, with a cut by Williams pulling them within 90-86 at the 6:36 mark. Cunningham answered a 3-pointer by Luguentz Dort (28 points), but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (30 points and 13 assists) hit another jumper to stay within four.
The Thunder (7-16) stormed ahead with a 13-0 run, spurred by a 3-pointer and three-point play by Dort and a lay-in by Gilgeous-Alexander to take their first lead of the game, and then pull away, 104-97, with 2:43 left.
Grant ended the run with a jumper, but Gilgeous-Alexander added a spinning drive and set up Williams for a lay-in with a nice pass, and the comeback was complete.
“We’ve lost 19 games,” Cunningham said. “There’s been plenty of verbal (reassuring). Eventually there has to be action.”
The Thunder’s 42 points in the fourth quarter were the most that the Pistons have given up in any quarter this season.
In the first quarter, the Pistons opened by making nine of their first 13 field goals, jetting to a 25-13 lead in the first six minutes. Bey hit back-to-back 3-pointers, capping an 11-2 spurt.
Dort hit a floater and Gilgeous-Alexander added a lay-in to get within eight, but Bey converted another 3-pointer and Isaiah Stewart chipped in a dunk to get the lead back to 13.
The Pistons led, 37-28, after the first quarter and they extended to 52-39 in the second quarter, with a 7-0 run led by the bench unit. Josh Jackson had a couple of baskets int eh drive and Cunningham, who went 6-of-11 on 3-pointers, hit from the outside.
The Thunder had a 30-6 advantage on the free-throw line, which helped slow the pace of the game down, and kept Oklahoma City within reach throughout the game. They hit 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch in the second quarter and stayed close, 63-50, at halftime.
“(The free throws) definitely hurt. It kind of made us back off a little bit,” Cunningham said. “We wanted to be physical to start the game, and them getting fouled and getting to the line was consistent throughout the game. You can’t blame the referees; it’s their job and it’s on us to adjust to it.”
The Thunder had a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter to trim a 16-point lead down to six, with all 10 points by Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey, but the Pistons finished the quarter with an 8-5 spurt to maintain a nine-point margin entering the fourth.