The Detroit Pistons didn’t play a perfect game on Sunday. But for the first time in over a month, they were good enough.
Sunday’s win over the Miami Heat was the Pistons’ first win since Nov. 17, snapping a franchise record-tying 14-game losing streak. But the Pistons aren’t measuring success in wins and losses, coach Dwane Casey reiterated during his pregame availability. It’s a developmental season. Behind-the-scenes progress isn’t always represented in wins and losses.
Still, Sunday’s win matters. It has been a difficult season for Detroit, which owns the NBA’s worst winning percentage. The Pistons’ two highest-paid veterans, Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk, are injured. Their second-year players have been slow to show improvement, though Saddiq Bey has been the team’s best player over the past week. With five wins in 29 games thus far, they’re on pace to win 14 games — four fewer than the 18 they won in 72 games last season, even though this season is a normal 82 games.
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But Casey and the rest of the team are focused on the big picture. The Pistons still made youthful mistakes on Sunday. But they played with consistent effort for 48 minutes and defeated a banged-up Heat team that was without three of its best players, including All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
The win gave Casey and his coaching staff plenty of moments they can teach from. In the grand scheme, that’s what’s they want right now.
“It bothers you, but that’s not what this season is about,” Casey said of the losing streak. “I’m not caught up in the ’14 straight.’ I’m caught up in these guys growing and developing. That’s what, sooner or later, all this stuff is going to click and I think ’14 straight’ is a byproduct of such a young team. And I’m not going to put that on their back. That’s on myself for playing them. But that’s what we’re here for, is development.”
There were plenty of positives Sunday night. The Pistons were solid defensively, holding the Heat to 37.8% shooting. Despite knocking down just eight of 32 3-point attempts, Detroit shot 46.7% overall, including going 6-for-13 on 3-pointers in the second half. After trailing by two points at halftime, the Pistons used a 21-7 third-quarter run to take control of the game. Unlike multiple games during their skid, they didn’t lose momentum after building a double-digit lead in the second half.
Bey topped 20 points for the third straight game, finishing with 26 on 7-for-13 shooting. Cade Cunningham only took four shots while dealing with aggressive double-teams, but he dished out 10 assists and dictated the pace. Hamidou Diallo thrived in the starting lineup again, finishing with an efficient 15 points and seven rebounds. Detroit took care of the ball, committing just 13 turnovers.
“If you have been watching us for the last couple of weeks, you’ll see we’ve been up by 15 (points), we have been down 10, we’ve been down 20 — we have been all over the place,” Diallo said. “So, it’s just finally saying enough is enough, and understanding how to pull out those wins. From everybody that is on our team, all 15 guys just understanding what it takes to win and how to slow down the pace when things are moving. We are a young team, we have some experience and our two point guards are young. With time we are going to all learn, and we are going to all keep getting better. I just preach ‘trust in the work,’ that’s all it really is.”
The Pistons’ outside shooting as a team was a weakness, as was their poise in the final minutes of the game. Cunningham committed turnovers on consecutive possessions 16 seconds apart within the final two minutes. Soon after, with 62 seconds remaning, Killian Hayes took a short jumper with 10 seconds still on the shot clock. The mistakes didn’t cost Detroit the win, but they were still mistakes.
The Pistons had spurts of good play during their losing streak. On Sunday, their good play finally outweighed the mistakes.
“It reinforces your teaching,” Casey said of the win. “We weren’t doing any teaching anything different or talking about anything different than we’ve ben all year, but sooner or later, all this stuff is going to click. It’s painful that we lost 14 in a row. Yet still, all those things are really, really teachable moments and it’s easier to teach and reinforce it after you win.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.