Detroit — On the second game of a back-to-back, after an emotional win over at Toronto on Thursday night, if the Pistons weren’t hitting on all cylinders, it would be understandable. Their long week included five games in seven nights, including a pair of back-to-backs.
That’s not an easy path, especially with three of those games on the road.
The Pistons finished the string with a strong push, overcoming a six-point deficit in the final three minutes, and holding on against the Indiana Pacers, 111-106, on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Saddiq Bey finished with 25 points and four assists, Cade Cunningham 20 points and nine rebounds and Marvin Bagley III 18 points and eight rebounds off the bench for the Pistons (17-47.
The Pistons are in a good space, having won five of their last seven games.
“It’s connectivity and guys playing together and playing for each other, not worried about stats and not worried about anything else,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We had 28 assists, which is huge, and when we don’t pass it, we don’t have assists, and we don’t win.
“We’ve got to help each other; we’re a team and to be able to score, we’ve got to help each other, whether it’s spacing, whether it’s screening or passing the ball — all those things we have to help each other to be able to create shots for each other.”
The Pacers (22-43) moved ahead, 105-99, after a 3-pointer by Malcolm Brogdon (26 points, five rebounds and four assists) and a dunk by Jalen Smith (12 points and 11 rebounds), with 2:56 left.
The Pistons answered with back-to-back 3-pointers by Cunningham and Bey to tie it at with 1:40 left. Isaiah Jackson (12 points and 12 rebounds) made one of two free throws to give the Pacers the lead, but Cunningham scored on a drive to move back in front.
After a hot start, Cunningham struggled in the middle of the game, but he turned it on down the stretch, with the 3-pointer that started the run and a key drive to regain the lead for good.
“He’s a tough player. We see it in practice, and we see it in games,” Bagley said. “He can do a lot of great things out on the court to help us win.”
The Pacers didn’t score the rest of the way, and the Pistons got two free throws each from Jerami Grant (eight points, five rebounds and five assists) and Bey in the final 20 seconds to put the game away.
The Pistons started the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer from Killian Hayes, but the Pacers took control with a 10-1 run, including a pair of baskets from Duane Washington Jr. (16 points) and 2 of 4 free throws from Jackson.
Bagley ended the run with a lay-in and foul, but he missed the free throw and didn’t complete the three-point play, but Bey followed with a 3-pointer to tie the game at 98.
In the first quarter, Bey had 14 points and the Pistons were playing some of their best ball of the season, posting 39 points in the period, and they had a seven-point lead. Bey had six points in the first four minutes and added a 3-pointer for an 18-13 margin.
The Pistons went 8-of-9 from beyond the arc in the first period, including three from Bey.
With 18 games to go in the season, there’s more optimism and they seem to be having fun, which is a big change from the struggles that they’ve been through this season.
“I’ll probably just say just the way we’re together right now. You could just sense the energy, how everything just shifted for us right now, the joy,” Stewart said. “It’s like you’ve got to see it to just see the difference, but it’s definitely been a change.”