How Detroit Pistons avoided collapse, escaped with win: ‘We’re together right now’

Detroit Free Press

After leading by 15 points midway through the second quarter on Friday, the Detroit Pistons did almost everything possible to lose to the Indiana Pacers at Little Caesars Arena.

Almost.

The Pistons were outscored, 66-56, after the 8:12 mark of the second period. They  shot 6-for-22 overall and turned the ball over five times in the fourth quarter.

Saddiq Bey, Cade Cunningham and Marvin Bagley felt like the entire offense. It was the Pistons’ fifth game in seven nights, and the team seemed to hit a wall following a hot start to the game.

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Yet, they still won, 111-106, for their fifth win in seven tries. Back-to-back 3’s by Cunningham and Bey tied the game at 105 with 1:40 remaining in the game, and Cunningham hit a clutch layup with 1:09 on the clock that gave Detroit the lead the good.

The game echoed a handful of their losses earlier in the season, which saw them lose double-digit leads. The only difference was the clutch plays made at the end to save the game.

When asked how the Pistons held onto the win, Dwane Casey was a little lost for words. Detroit didn’t defend well, and gave up a wide-open 3-pointer to Jalen Smith with 10 seconds left that would’ve tied the game at 109.

How did they do it?

“Usually you can do it with your defense but we weren’t defending in the first three quarters, and I think it’s just timely shots in the fourth quarter, is the thing we pulled off,” Casey said after Friday’s win. “After the first quarter, we weren’t going to be able to keep up that pace, shooting the 3 the way we were at the start of the game. So we had to get some stops, and we didn’t. We made some timely shots down the stretch, and let’s leave it at that.”

The Pistons have credited their “connectivity” during their recent surge of winning basketball. During the last three weeks, they’ve defeated the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Hornets, Toronto Raptors and now the Pacers. Cunningham, Bey and Jerami Grant are all playing some of their best basketball of the season. The ball is moving, and the energy on defense has been palpable.

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Friday’s win was a credit to everything the Pistons did right in the opening 18 minutes. They scored a season-high 39 points in the first quarter on 65.2% shooting, and knocked down nine of their first 10 3-pointers. But it was an unstainable pace. Dead legs eventually set in, and the Pacers rallied from a 15-point deficit to take their first lead since the first quarter midway through the third.

It could’ve been curtains for Detroit, but it’s a testament to their growth that they battled to a win. They dished 28 assists and turned the ball over just 13 times, even with their five-turnover fourth quarter. They cooled down from behind-the-arc, but still made 15 of their 30 attempts.

“It’s growth,” Casey said. “A lot of areas of growth, a lot of areas we need to improve on. Just like in the huddle, we said specifically don’t leave the 3. Twos don’t hurt us. Don’t leave the 3. And lo and behold, we leave Smith out there wide open. Just those little mental things. It’s nothing physical or not playing hard. It’s just the nuances and the mental things that young players always seem at the wrong time to pull off. There’s a lot of growth, the connection. Like I said last night, we’re connected. Connected on the offensive end, and down the stretch in the fourth quarter we got better defensively.

The Pistons are now 12-19 overall since Jan. 1, the NBA’s 20th-best record in that timeframe. There’s room for more improvement, but they’re trending toward average after being the worst team in the league through their first 23 games.

“Just the way we’re together right now,” Isaiah Stewart said when asked what’s stood out during his team’s recent  winning stretch. “You can just sense the energy, how everything’s just shifted for us right now, the joy. You have to see it to see the difference, but there definitely has been a change.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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