The Pistons are starting to take baby steps in their growth, but that development is not always going to show on the scoreboard.
Their incremental steps forward are starting to show in some good stretches of games, but the final product doesn’t always reflect the steps forward they’re taking.
Take Sunday’s rematch against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who beat the Pistons by 11 at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday night. It was another double-digit defeat, but in the rematch, at Target Center, the Pistons played much better, only to fall short in the final three minutes of a 118-105 loss.
Saddiq Bey had 24 points and eight rebounds, Trey Lyles 16 points and seven rebounds and Corey Joseph 15 points and four assists for the Pistons (12-41), who have lost eight of their last nine games.
They’re still dealing with adding Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk back to the lineup after extended absences because of injuries. The roles are shifting and it’s taking some adjustment time.
“I thought we played some good basketball — we just didn’t play long enough stretches of it — and that’s the mark of us for this year, our growth potential is to make sure we extend that,” coach Dwane Casey said.
The Timberwolves (28-25) had an 83-79 lead entering the fourth quarter but opened with a 6-2 run, and a 3-pointer by Olynyk pulled the Pistons within five points. Minnesota later had an 8-0 spurt, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Jaden McDaniels (13 points) made it a 13-point margin.
The Pistons stormed back with a long jumper from Killian Hayes (10 points and eight assists), a jumper from Bey and a drive and reverse finish by Hayes.
It was one of Hayes’ best games of the season, with all 10 points in the final period, and four of those made baskets on drives to the rim, including an impressive dunk off a good read of the defense.
“Great player, great point guard for us. He uses his size to his ability, and it’s a mismatch for a lot of guards,” Bey said. “It’s good to see him be aggressive down the stretch and throughout the game.”
After Bey hit back-to-back 3-pointers, pulling the Pistons to 107-102 with 3:55 left, D’Angelo Russell (22 points, five rebounds and eight assists) hit a jumper and then was fouled on a 3-point attempt. He made all three free throws and extended the Timberwolves’ lead to 10.
Hayes answered with a dunk, but the Pistons didn’t get any closer the rest of the way.
The game was nip-and-tuck for most of the first half, and the Timberwolves took off with a 9-0 start to the second half, including back-to-back baskets by Karl-Anthony Towns (24 points and 12 rebounds), a 3-pointer by Russell and a dunk by Jarred Vanderbilt, for a 64-56 lead at the 10:05 mark.
The Pistons responded with their own 9-0 run, with 3-pointers by Joseph and Bey and a jumper by Diallo, who also split a pair of free throws, to regain the lead. The Pistons later went ahead, 72-70, after another jumper by Diallo and a 3-pointer by Bey, but Anthony Edwards (17 points and five assists) kick-started the Timberwolves’ rally, scoring their next eight points.
Edwards’ 3-pointer at 3:19 gave Minnesota the lead for good, at 76-74, and a 3-point barrage that included Malik Beasley (20 points and nine rebounds) helped push the lead to 83-79 entering the fourth quarter.
The small steps are hidden in the losses sometimes, but Hayes made a big statement with his play, especially in the second half, and they can use that as a building block for the games to come.
“Killian Hayes had growth. When you go against Patrick Beverley, who’s one of the top defensive point guards in the league,” Casey said, “and to hold your own and get the ball where you want to go — he got a dunk over him — those things are growth for him.”