MIAMI — If the Detroit Pistons had lost Thursday’s game by a wide margin, it would’ve been understandable. They had five players in health and safety protocols: Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saben Lee and Rodney McGruder joined Cade Cunningham, who entered the league’s COVID-19 protocols on Wednesday, roughly two hours before the game tipped off Thursday.
The Pistons, until this week, had avoided having a single player enter the protocols. The Omicron variant, which NBA commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this week is responsible for 90% of the cases during the league’s ongoing COVID outbreak this month, appears to have finally reached the Pistons.
The Pistons were left with just nine available players.
Despite that, the Pistons (5-26) competed hard. Trey Lyles had a career night, and the team had one of its best offensive performances of the season and nearly defeated a Heat team that was also short-handed. The Heat needed clutch 3-pointers from Tyler Herro and Max Strus to prevail and defeat Detroit, 115-112. The Pistons led for much of the first half, but Miami closed the deficit in the third quarter and scored 10 of the game’s final 12 points to close out.
Lyles had a career-high 28 points to go with eight rebounds and four blocks. Saddiq Bey had a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Cory Joseph finished with 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Frank Jackson added 19 points.
Strus, who knocked down the game-winning 3 with 40 seconds left, finished with 26 points. Herro led all scorers with 29 points. The Heat were without Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and PJ Tucker due to injuries.
The Pistons went deep into their bench. Jamorko Pickett played his first game since Oct. 31, and Cheick Diallo, who signed a 10-day contract with the team after Cunningham entered protocol, made his debut.
Hot shooting helps Pistons survive short bench
The Pistons have had many issues this season, including outside shooting. Entering Thursday, they ranked last, making just 30.7%. They were coming off of two of their poorer efforts, knocking down just eight of 32 attempts against the Heat on Sunday in Detroit and eight of 33 attempts against the New York Knicks on Tuesday.
Midway through the first quarter, it was clear Thursday would be different. Detroit knocked down six of its first nine 3-point attempts to take a 24-15 lead roughly eight minutes into the first. They matched their total number of makes during each of their previous two games with 8:55 on the clock in the second quarter, when Joseph knocked down Detroit’s eighth 3 to extend the lead to six.
Thursday was one of the Pistons’s most loose and energetic offensive games of the season. The ball consistently found open shooters, and the shooters did their part by knocking down the shots. Lyles knocked down a pair of free throws with three minutes left before halftime to give the Pistons a 56-43 lead.
Miami battled back in the second half, using an 11-2 third quarter run to take a 73-72 lead midway through the quarter. It was a back-and-forth game from that point on, as the second half featured 13 lead changes and 11 ties. Joseph set the Pistons’ season high in made 3-pointers (17) with roughly four minutes to play, to put Detroit back on top, 103-100.
Bey made Detroit’s 18th 3-pointer to extend the lead to five, 110-105, with 2:40 remaining. But the Heat prevailed, closing the game with a 10-2 run.
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