For three quarters, it appeared the Detroit Pistons would prevail in their first game of the season without Jerami Grant, who will miss at least six weeks with a thumb injury.
A monstrous 51-point game by Kevin Durant, and a late surge by the Brooklyn Nets, instead led to the Pistons suffering their 12th-consecutive loss.
The Pistons fell to the Nets, 116-104, after Brooklyn outscored them, 30-13, in the final period. Detroit was the better team for much of the game up until that point, and led by five at the end of the third. Durant added nine assists and seven rebounds.
Cade Cunningham led the Pistons with 26 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists. Frank Jackson added 25 points and knocked down six 3-pointers off the bench, and Saben Lee had a season-high 17 points, six assists and six rebounds.
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Killian Hayes tweaks thumb; Saben Lee steps up
Hayes appeared to be doing better after the Pistons rested him for four games toward the end of November to give his ailing left thumb a chance to heal. He seemingly reinjured that thumb early in the third quarter against the Nets, and was visibly in pain as he checked out of the game.
Lee seized the moment, and scored 10 points during a 34-point third quarter for the Pistons that helped them take control of the game before falling apart in the fourth. He also dished three assists and tallied two steals during the period. Lee’s best highlight was his last made bucket of the night — a circus and-one play with 4:39 to play in the third that extended Detroit’s lead to 80-75.
Hayes checked back in for Lee midway through the fourth quarter, as the Nets were in the midst of a game-clinching 19-1 run. His thumb was stil visibly bothering him. He airballed a stepback 3, but got a transition layup to fall before subbing back out for Lee with about two minutes remaining.
Jerami Grant’s absence forces lineup changes
With their leading scorer in street clothes on the bench, Dwane Casey preached an all-hands-on-deck approach to replacing Grant’s production before the game. Casey did his part by making multiple tweaks to his rotation.
“We talked about it being a collective effort,” Casey said. “It’s not going to be one guy, going to one guy, a guy. We’re going to have to do it collectively. No one player is going to make up 20-something points out of the lineup, so it’s gotta be done collectively with that mindset as much as anything else.”
Casey promoted Hamidou Diallo, who has played power forward in spurts in recent weeks, to the starting lineup alongside Cunningham, Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. Lee replaced Cory Joseph as Hayes’ backup, and checked in toward the end of the first quarter. And Rodney McGruder, who had only appeared in nine games before Sunday, started the second quarter.
Lee played one of the best games of his young career, but Diallo and McGruder were also key for the Pistons. Diallo picked up two fouls in the first quarter, but otherwise held his own as an undersized four. He finished the night with 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
McGruder provided an energy lift off of the bench, and made a tip-in bucket and transition layup on consecutive possessions early in the second quarter to help power a 24-7 Pistons run that gave them the lead after trailing by 13 points toward the end of the first.
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