Kevin Durant set a Little Caesars Arena record with 51 points in the Brooklyn Nets’ 116-104 over the Detroit Pistons. The loss was Detroit’s 12th in a row and the first without star forward Jerami Grant who injured his thumb in the Pistons’ previous game and will miss at least six weeks.
While the Nets went into the season thinking they could ride their big three of Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving to an NBA title, on this Sunday night it was all up to the big one. Irving hasn’t played all season, of course, and Harden was getting a rest night.
Durant, as always, was up to the challenge. He played 41 minutes and needed only 31 shots to get his 51 points. He got to the charity stripe 15 times, missing only once, and also dished nine assists. He simply could not be stopped.
The Pistons will clearly be relying on rookie Cade Cunningham to power the offense with Grant on the sidelines and at least on this night, he also seemed up to the challenge.
Cunningham tied a career high with 26 points and hit 5 3-pointers. He also continues to play excellent defense — he notched three steals and a block against the Nets. There were issues, of course. He’s still incredibly careless with the ball and fumbled the ball out of bounds or passed the ball into non-existent windows several times. He had seven turnovers to go with his six assists, and the turnovers continue to be the biggest blotch on his pretty stellar rookie resume so far.
The absence of Grant opened the door for some lineup experimentation from Dwane Casey, and it was mostly a welcome sight. Hamidou Diallo slid into the starting power forward spot and had a strong game with energy, defense, lots of basket cuts and some tough makes.
Casey also played Saben Lee 27 minutes as backup point guard, supplanting Cory Joseph. We will see if that was a one-night experiment or the beginning of a trend, but the hunch paid off. Lee scored 17 points and was dangerous driving to the basket all night. Rodney McGruder also played 18 minutes off the bench scoring 6 points.
There was a bit more of bad injury luck, however, as Killian Hayes seemed to re-aggravate his thumb injury when it was inadvertently kicked by a Nets player. Hayes went into the locker room in obvious pain. He was re-inserted into the game for a brief time but was pulled again when he was in obvious discomfort.
The Pistons also enjoyed a hot-shooting night from Frank Jackson who scored 25 points and hit 6-of-13 from deep. Jackson is another player angling for more minutes and an expanded role on this offense-starved team. I speculated Jackson might slide into a starting spot with Saddiq Bey sliding from starting small to power forward.
Bey has been struggling mightily and did so again against the Nets. he was 2-of-9 for four point and outside a few quality defensive possessions when he at least bothered Durant, he was a non-factor.
If Casey is further looking to reconfigure the rotation, I could see him giving Bey some minutes off the bench to get his head right and try out a small starting unit of Hayes, Jackson, Cunningham, Diallo and Stewart.
The new-look rotation the Pistons deployed tonight did make things interesting, for three quarters anyway. With some stout defense, timely 3-point shooting and players eager to run in transition and attack the rim, Detroit managed to finagle a five-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
Casey rode his starters pretty hard throughout the third quarter that saw the Pistons take the lead thanks to a 34-26 advantage in the frame. But the bench unit quickly coughed up the lead as the Nets put Durant back in and let him cook.
The Nets went on a 19-1 run to begin the fourth quarter, and the Pistons had zero made baskets and nine turnovers in that span. By then the game was pretty well over and the only question was whether Durant would eclipse the 50-point mark.
When Durant scored his 50th and 51st points on an easy 8-foot jumper it made him the highest-scoring player in Little Caesars Arena history. he eclipsed the 50 points Blake Griffin scored in overtime against the Philadelphia 76ers. I ain’t mad at it.