New York — There was a moment when Pistons forward Saddiq Bey finally let loose.
Bey, ever stoic, cracked a smile, letting his teeth shine through, just a little. There was reason to celebrate, as the Pistons were in the final minutes of ending their month-long losing streak. They were putting the finishing touches on a 100-90 victory over the Miami Heat on Sunday night.
There were moments of déjà vu in the fourth quarter, where it seemed like the Pistons would let the lead slip away again, as they had done several times during the losing skid. When the Heat tried to deliver a haymaker, the young Pistons dodged this time, firming themselves before delivering a knockout blow.
Bey, seemingly powered by the headband that he’s donned for his scoring surge in the last three games, was at the forefront down the stretch. Bey made 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, then followed with two of three free throws, before Killian Hayes hit the 3-pointer with 2:52 left that pushed the lead to 11 points, which cooled the Heat for good.
In some ways, Sunday’s win was a template for how the Pistons should be playing in the games ahead, with a focus on defense and finally seeing some shots fall, though they were only 8-of-32 on 3-pointers. They made them when they needed them, but more than that, they were getting defensive stops when they needed them.
“We should be finishing this way, and even better, (without giving up) as many free throws and not as many offensive rebounds,” Bey said. “We’ve been in this position before in a lot of other games. For us, we want to do the full 48 (minutes), the full four quarters. We’re not going to be perfect, but we know that if we play together, we have a chance.”
It was a lesson for a young squad that has won just four other times this season, a lesson on what to do — as well as what not to do. There were the times when Cade Cunningham and Hayes rushed down the court, looking for shots, before coach Dwayne Casey implored them to slow down, because they already had the lead, and time was on their side.
That situation takes some getting used to, and maybe a subtle reminder.
Those are things that the rebuild brings: learning opportunities. It’s not going to be all perfect at once, but the baby steps will turn into bigger steps gradually. The same things that went wrong on Sunday will be done the right way eventually.
“Killian had a runner and we were trying to burn clock and they were running,” Casey said. “Those things you have to learn, and luckily we were ahead, but even if we weren’t, they would have been great teaching moments for the rest of the year.
“Cade’s going to see double-teams, how he’s going to pick teams apart. Now they have to take it off. It was a good lesson from that standpoint also.”
The Pistons were without veterans Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk, who were supposed to anchor the starting and reserve units, respectively. Injuries have moved them to the bench and some other role players into more prominent playing roles.
Sure, it’s just one win, but it’s also one night of not having to wallow in a litany of things that went wrong; for the first time since before Thanksgiving, they can reflect on what went right. And smile. And revel in the fun of a victory.
“It’s great to get the monkey off our backs. We know a lot of our losses have been close possessions and down the stretch, so it’s just good to see that if we execute down the stretch, what we can do,” Bey said. “We have to build off it; we have to keep fighting to win every game and take one day at a time.”
Casey has maintained that this season is all about the growth for the young players and instilling winning habits, more than just worrying about the number of wins and losses. More wins will come — and the losses probably will outnumber the victories.
Even though Cunningham didn’t have one of his signature games, his 10 assists were a catalyst for the Pistons’ comeback. He had double-digit assists for the second straight game and showed that he can be more than just a frontline scorer.
His versatility allowed Bey to be the frontman.
And the Pistons got a win out of it.
Pistons at Knicks
► Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Madison Square Garden, New York
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Pistons (5-24) ended their 14-game losing streak, behind a superb performance from Saddiq Bey (26 points). The Knicks (13-17) have six players in health and safety protocols, including RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin.