Pistons’ Luka Garza offers glimpse of potential before familiar foul issues resurface

Detroit News

Pistons rookie Luka Garza was just starting to get a little sizzle to his game.

He hit a 3-pointer, scored on a hook over San Antonio Spurs backup Drew Eubanks and then hit a midrange jumper, for seven straight Pistons points in the fourth quarter of the Pistons’ loss on Sunday night.

It was a career night for the rookie center, getting just his third career start. The Pistons were beyond shorthanded, with eight players in health and safety protocols, pushing Garza into the starting lineup, as one of just nine available players on the roster.

Sure, it was a blowout, a 144-109 shellacking by the Spurs, but Garza’s numbers were dazzling nonetheless: 20 points in 20 minutes, going 7-of-14 from the field, on 2-of-5 3-pointers. It wasn’t Tim Duncan or David Robinson who was guarding Garza, but on the day before his 23rd birthday, he showed some of the potential that he can be an impactful NBA player on the offensive end.

“Luka always play so hard, and he makes a lot of things happen because he plays so hard,” acting coach Rex Kalamian said. “I wish he could have gotten a few more minutes, but because of foul trouble, he was limited. We love Luka’s effort and energy and spirit. It’s really good.”

Garza also showed that he still has some work to do with his defense.

He was saddled with foul trouble for the entire game, picking up his third in the second quarter, then his fourth foul eight seconds into the third quarter. Defense has been a work in progress, and he’s starting to make some strides, but Sunday’s game was a struggle all the way around.

“It’s tough when you get an early couple (of fouls). It takes away from your aggressiveness defensively, especially. When there are a lot of guys attacking the rim, it made it tough on me to be able to protect the rim like I can,” Garza said. “I know I’m not a world-beater, but I know I can do better than I did, and I’m not going to blame it just on foul trouble.

“Individually, there are some things I can do better on and obviously, some of them, I continue to work on and focus on every day.”

Garza has been in foul trouble in his last two games, with five fouls against the Miami Heat, and the focus has been on trying to help him move his feet better to be in position to defend shots around the rim. That’s still developing, but he sees where his deficiencies are.

Where he can help is not picking up cheap fouls, such as trying to tightly guard Jakob Poeltl early in the quarter and getting called away from the basket, especially when the Pistons are shorthanded at center and they don’t have the bodies to keep shuttling in and out. Late in the fourth quarter, their only two centers had fouled out, and they were left with forwards playing up as centers.

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Being disciplined and not taking too many risks is his path forward to being more effective defensively.

“You can’t (take gambles), especially when you’re in foul trouble. I was trying to be hyped up and pressure the ball a little bit, but that’s just a rookie mistake,” Garza said. “If I don’t get that (cheap foul on Poeltl), then I don’t have a problem down the stretch, and it’s frustrating. I felt like I was starting to be able to get it going a little bit.”

The final foul that put Garza out of the game came with 8:30 remaining. Eubanks drove and Garza tried to move his feet to get in position, but he picked up the foul.

Garza thought it was his fifth foul, but after some confusion, the official scorer ruled that it was his sixth and that he had fouled out.

Garza was incredulous, insisting that he only had five, as were some of the Pistons’ coaches. According to the official scoring book, Garza picked up his fifth foul at the 11:35 mark, but the video showed that the official signaled and verbally announced that the foul was on Deividas Sirvydis.

Garza could do nothing but accept the officials’ determination and head to the bench, still confused.

“I remember hearing (the fifth foul) being called on a different player. But I remember on the scoreboard, the foul went to me, and I told my coaches about it,” he said. “I don’t know if the refs switched the call, but from my understanding, and a guy who’s in foul trouble, you know how many fouls you have.”

It’s a lesson for Garza, but also an example of what he can do when given ample playing time to get integrated into the game.

More time is coming, and the results could be different next time.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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