Detroit — There was a sense that the Pistons were getting close to doing something special. In the big scheme of things, one win is just that — one win.
Saturday’s 117-116 win over the San Antonio Spurs seemed to be something else, an exhale after a slew of lopsided losses, including a 35-point margin against the same Spurs last week in San Antonio.
The Pistons (6-28) have been decimated by players in the COVID protocols, but with just three remaining roster players and seven others who played primarily in the G League this season, they turned the tables on the Spurs and got a confidence-boosting win.
They likely will get some of their regular rotation players back before Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee, but for one night, the piecemeal roster did something that it could be excited about.
Here are some takeaways from the overtime win:
Hamidou Diallo is in a groove
He’s scored at least 28 points in the last three games, and he’s freestyling for most of it. Coach Dwane Casey said they’re not dialing up many plays specifically with Diallo in mind, and that he’s finding spots in the defense to attack.
Some of it is just having a bigger opportunity and more minutes to play with most of the other starters out and the Pistons just needing scorers. Some of it is just finding a balance with a new group of teammates, most of them from the G League.
Whatever the case, Diallo is making an impression on his teammates and on Casey.
“Any time you’re in that situation, somebody going to shine; somebody has got to score. He moved up a notch and you don’t have Jerami (Grant), don’t have Cade (Cunningham), don’t have whoever else,” Casey said. “So, now he’s at the top of the food chain and we’re running plays for him, and when those guys come back, this will give him confidence.”
Saddiq Bey, the closer
Bey hasn’t had many opportunities to cap off games, but he was money on Saturday. Bey didn’t have a stellar shooting game, going 7-of-23 from the field, but his shots were timely. He was also 5-of-6 from the free-throw line, including splitting a pair in the final seconds. He’s been working on other parts of his game, and the career-high 17 rebounds were a big indicator of how much work he’s done.
Casey pointed to defense and rebounding as two areas of improvement for Bey, and “The rebounding part, he had 17 rebounds, and that’s the area also that he can improve in — and he did tonight — to go get the rebounds, because he’s been one of our biggest, strongest guys,” Casey said.
With so many players still in COVID protocols, Bey is the longest-tenured Pistons player, and he’s showing the leadership by example that the younger players can learn from.
Et tu, Cassius?
Cassius Stanley hadn’t made a big impression in his time with the Pistons, but he had a career-best 18 points on Saturday, stepping into his shots with more confidence. He finished 3-of-4 on 3-pointers and he had a couple of big free throws down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
“He is solid. I just think he’s a solid player. He doesn’t try to do something he can’t, and he didn’t get rattled,” Casey said. “I think being one of the top players coming out of high school helped his confidence level. He’s a confident young man, but he’s very coachable and he’s a sponge.”
Stanley started at shooting guard, with Frank Jackson out because of a sprained ankle, but he looked the part of a starter, on both ends of the court.
Derrick Walton Jr. is starting to feel at home in Detroit
Whether it’s playing for the Cruise or the Pistons, being back in his hometown has brought some stability for the young guard who played at Michigan. He’s bounced around in the NBA with the Clippers and the Heat and the Pistons, but this time in Detroit is different.
“I tell my mom every day since I’ve been playing, I’ve always needed MapQuest. I’m hopping on I-75 every day and it doesn’t even feel real,” Walton said. “I’m eating at spots I’ve been eating at my whole life. I’m going to malls I’m used to. I’m going home to my dog.
“It’s surreal. Obviously, it’s a blessing. I just want to take full advantage of it. I know I belong in this league and I just want to keep improving and that’s all I can say. I’m just grateful for the opportunity, I just want to be a part of something that I’ve grown up watching.”