It was either stealthy tanking or bad basketball.
The Detroit Pistons led the Cleveland Cavaliers by 10 points late on Monday at Little Caesars Arena. After knocking off the Boston Celtics in the last game before the NBA All-Star break, it looked like the Pistons were on their way to another win over a playoff team.
And then it all went south.
The offense stalled as Cleveland roared back as Lauri Markkenan’s free throw with a minute to go gave them a 1-point lead. Somehow, the Pistons got themselves together as Cade Cunningham hit three free throws in the final minute to give Detroit a 106-103 win.
The final seconds were sweaty — Cleveland missed a lot of good looks and the Pistons defended them like chickens with their heads cut off — but a good win is a good win.
The difference tonight was that the Cavs were down their top two guards in Darius Garland and Caris LaVert, but on the court, the Pistons were just the more aggressive team.
Isaiah Stewart battled through early foul trouble, but gave Jarret Allen and Evan Mobley all they could handle. For the second time in as many games against the Pistons, Mobley looked exhausted by the end. Stewart just wears you down.
He would have been so damn good in the early-2000s. Still would have been undersized, but he would have been a weapon in the post offensively and super versatile defensively.
These old-school bigs do not give him issues like bouncy, stretch ones. Mobley will eventual be a problem for him, but for now, Stew can handle him.
Cunningham was solid, too. He didn’t shoot the ball well — looks like the Cade vs. Isaac Okoro matchup will be one that might matter in a few years when both these teams are good — but he did a little bit of everything with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.
The free throws at the end were big, and are becoming the norm for him late in games.
He even got a “star” call late and shot 10 free throws, a refreshing sight and career-high.
But the bench led the way tonight.
Marvin Bagley III, in his first home game with the Pistons, showed off his whole bag of tricks. He got the ball in spots to score with his left down low, many against Mobley, while he hit a few jumpers and showed off his explosive athleticism.
Case in point:
First, the video here doesn’t show it, but Jerami Grant started this by denying a lob to the bigger Jarret Allen. Second, this is what a functional lob threat looks like. Cade made something happen there with the ball, but Bagley got up for that.
Hamidou Diallo was his typical brand of chaotic energy, but in all the best ways. He hit three triples in the first quarter (!!!) and continued to play his butt off the rest of the night. Hami led the way with 21 points and 6 rebounds, and it looks like he’s starting to find his groove again after heading to the bench when Grant returned from injury.
And lest we forget about our polarizing prince, Killian Hayes.
He didn’t shoot it well, but he was really good — impactful without scoring.
I loved the chemistry he flashed with Bagley, but his defense was outstanding. After being picked apart on switches against Memphis before the All-Star break, he stood tall every time the Cavs got Kevin Love on him.
He finished with 2 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and a pair of steals. It wasn’t flashy, but it was effective. Hayes filled his role. Hit one of those threes and he’s looking at a really solid game off the bench.