Detroit — When the schedule was released before the season, the Pistons’ home game against the Houston Rockets was one of the marquee matchups with the top two picks in the draft squaring off.
That plot didn’t materialize, as the Rockets’ Jalen Green missed the game because of a hamstring injury.
The rest of the Rockets were formidable without Green, as they stretched to a double-digit lead in the third quarter and extended the advantage in the fourth. The Pistons rallied, but the Rockets held on for a 116-107 win on a Saturday matinee at Little Caesars Arena.
BOX SCORE: Rockets 116, Pistons 107
It was the 14th straight loss for the Pistons (4-24), tying the franchise record. Detroit has the second game of a back-to-back on Sunday night at home against the Miami Heat.
Saddiq Bey finished with 23 points, top pick Cade Cunningham 21 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists and Isaiah Stewart 16 points and eight rebounds for the Pistons, who beat the Rockets in the earlier meeting this season.
“The positive was Saddiq. I thought he was decisive, attacking the basket, making quick decisions, shooting, driving, getting to the free-throw line,” said coach Dwane Casey, who returned after missing Thursday’s game in Indianapolis because of personal reasons. “I thought that was another positive building point for him.”
The Pistons had a good start, making three of their first four shots from the field. They took off from there, with three straight 3-pointers from Bey, Cunningham and Hamidou Diallo, to tie it at 17. The Rockets took off with a lay-in from Christian Wood (21 points and eight assists) and a basket from Garrison Mathews (16 points and five assists).
More: Pistons’ Stewart holds his own against larger Christian Wood
That ignited a 15-7 spurt for the Rockets (10-20), with three more points each from Wood and Kenyon Martin Jr. (10 points and 11 rebounds).
The Pistons again struggled on the defensive end, where they couldn’t hold the Rockets out of the paint, with their athletic wings able to get by the defenders easily. Houston scored 38 points in the first quarter, which dug another hole for the Pistons.
“Defensively, I thought we in the first half, set the tone in the first quarter, we had too many blow-by (drives). We had 10 blow-bys in the first half,” Casey said. “We got down in guarding, that would be the defensive negative. But again, the resilience — I thought the guys continued to compete, trying to search for five guys out there to play.
“They continued to compete together and to guard the ball, and I thought we found that toward the end, but a little bit too late. The game was decided in the first quarter how we defended the drives.”
The Pistons trailed, 62-49, at halftime, and they made a run to start the third quarter, with a lay-in from Cunningham, who added a steal and dunk. The Pistons made it a 9-3 run with a pair of free throws from Isaiah Stewart and a 3-pointer from Bey, who was 9-of-16 from the field, including 3-of-7 on 3-pointers, in the game.
The lead closed to 65-58 at the 10:06 mark, but the Rockets responded with a 3-pointer from Wood, and after Stewart picked up his fourth foul, Houston had an 8-2 run, with back-to-back baskets from Jae’Sean Tate (11 points, four rebounds and five assists). And a 3-pointer from Garrison Mathews (16 points).
The Pistons got within 77-70 with 4:42 left in the quarter after an 8-0 run, with 3-pointers by Cunningham and Bey and a lay-in by Jackson. Houston had another answer with a 9-2 spurt, and the Pistons couldn’t bounce back again.
In the fourth quarter, the Rockets pushed the lead to 20 with an 8-0 start, and the Pistons got a jolt from rookie Luka Garza, who had nine points in nine minutes. Garza scored on a putback, a tip-in, and added a 3-pointer. They got within 100-90 with 5:14 left, but the Rockets were able to hold off in the final stretch.