The Detroit Pistons have played most of the 2021-22 season shorthanded.
Their franchise player, Jerami Grant, missed 24 consecutive games after undergoing thumb surgery and entering health and safety protocols. Their biggest offseason acquisition, Kelly Olynyk, missed 33 straight games with a left knee sprain, and then missed four additional games after a two-game return due to protocols.
Tuesday was the first time since Nov. 10, the Pistons had both Grant and Olynyk in the lineup. There was bound to be an adjustment period, and Detroit’s collapse against the New Orleans Pelicans highlighted some of the issues the team will have to work out.
The 111-101 loss was a group failure. The Pistons led by 15 points with 8:11 to play in the third quarter, but were outscored, 52-27, down the stretch. Detroit lost its offensive rhythm, scoring just 14 points in the fourth quarter and conceding a 22-8 run at the end of the game that allowed the Pelicans to clinch the win.
Detroit’s issues were exacerbated by Cade Cunningham’s injury. The rookie left the game midway through the third quarter with a right hip pointer, and didn’t return.
“I expected some discombulation, we were expecting that tonight,” Dwane Casey said after the loss. “I thought we had gotten through it in the first half, and it finally caught up to us in the fourth quarter at a crucial time.”
While the Pistons are close to being 100% healthy, there was some expected rust from Grant and Olynyk after missing significant time. Grant had a solid performance with 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting, but acknowledged after the game that he’s still getting back up to game speed. Olynyk led the team with six assists off of the bench, but only attempted two shots and turned the ball over five times.
“I know that’s rust,” Casey said. “That’s something that I know he’s better than and will do a better job once he gets the rust off the pipes.”
In addition to Cunningham’s absence during most of the second half, the Pistons also got an off-night from Saddiq Bey, who finished with seven points on 2-for-10 shooting.
Grant’s return forced a number of lineup changes. Bey moved back to small forward after finding a groove at power forward. Hamidou Diallo, who scored an energetic 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting, returned to the bench after starting 24 consecutive games. Trey Lyles, who scored nine points and made all four of his shots, is back to his natural position of power forward after finding success as a small-ball center.
It’s the intended order of the lineup. Diallo’s game allows him to be effective in a number of different lineup combinations, since he does most of his scoring by attacking space, finishing tip-ins and completing hustle plays. Bey spent most of last season playing small forward next to Grant, and thrived. And Grant, of course, is still one of Detroit’s most versatile and effective scorers.
The Pistons will have a day of practice on Wednesday and back-to-back home games on Thursday and Friday. It gives them ample opportunity to figure out how to fit all of the pieces together.
Detroit found a rhythm in January with two of its key pieces out of the rotation. They now have to find a new rhythm.
“Jerami hasn’t played in a month and a half, Kelly has been out a little bit,” Jackson said. “That does kinda get into a different flow with different guys out there. I think we’ll be good. Excited to get these next two home games. We should be good rolling back with those guys, figuring out our spacing and spots a little bit more. That was our first game back with a whole different lineup.”