DENVER — Remove the final minute of the game, and Sunday’s fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets would’ve been one of the Detroit Pistons‘ best this season.
Instead, after a furious rally, they made a trio of mistakes and lost 117-111.
Detroit gave up a 17-3 run at the end of the third quarter, and entered the final period facing a 16-point deficit. A spirited 35-19 run tied the game at 111 with 1:15 to play. Killian Hayes and Saddiq Bey knocked down clutch 3-pointers, and Cade Cunningham, Cory Joseph and Trey Lyles contributed. A come-from-behind road win was in reach at Ball Arena.
But they collapsed in the final minute. Will Barton poked the ball loose from Joseph with 45 seconds left, and a charge attempt by Bey on Jokic was whistled as a foul.
Bey mistakenly stepped out of bounds with 34.8 seconds to play, and Stewart fouled out while contesting a Jokic layup on the other end.
With eight seconds left, Joseph was whistled for an off-ball foul right as Bey knocked down a 3-pointer that would’ve cut the deficit to one.
There were positives for the Pistons (11-35) on Sunday, like winning the fourth quarter 35-25, but they committed 22 turnovers that led to 28 points for the Nuggets (24-21). And that was the game story.
“They’re a very good team, taking nothing away from the Nuggets, but we shot ourselves in the foot,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “You give up 22 turnovers, whether it’s moving screens, stepping out of bounds, just things we can control, for 28 points. It’s encouraging the way we played with intensity, the way we executed. I’ve gotta go back and look at those last two plays, the moving screens they called. It was encouraging the way we fought back, I like that.
“To build our program the way we want to build it, we’ve gotta value the ball. And right now we’re not valuing the ball. ‘My bad, my bad.’ No, those add up. We’ve got to take every play as if it’s the last play of the game. Until we grow up and do that, we’re going to be sad a lot this year.”
The Pistons are 25th in the NBA this season with 15 turnovers per game. It’s virtually identical to the 14.9 per game they committed last season. Cunningham, who otherwise had a strong night with 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds, had six turnovers. The No. 1 pick has had a strong rookie season, but turnovers have been a recurring issue. He has had at least five turnovers in five of his 12 games in 2022.
Hayes, who played a strong fourth quarter and finished with eight points and five assists, had three turnovers. Bey also had three turnovers.
Despite the ending, it was one of the Pistons’ better efforts this season. They shot 56% overall and 37.8% from 3, and went toe-to-toe with a playoff-bound Nuggets team without their two highest-paid players in Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk. Denver — missing Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. — needed an MVP-level performance from the reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic, to pull away. He finished with a game-high 34 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Barton was Denver’s second-leading scorer with 14 points.
Detroit got 18-point performances from Cunningham, Stewart (who made all eight of his shots, including a 3-pointer and two midrange jumpers), Lyles and Joseph.
Hayes, who came off of the bench after missing two games with a right hip contusion, knocked down two 3-pointers and dished five assists in the fourth quarter leading to 11 points.
The Pistons have been an improved team in 2022, winning six of 13 games this calendar year. But there’s plenty of room to grow.
“Last 10 games, we were fourth in the league in turnovers, 12 a game,” Casey said. “And then we had this tonight. And so that’s what was more disappointing as anything. Now we have to regroup, see what we can do with Denver when we go back to our place, and correct some things. But most of all, take care of the ball.”