Detroit — Hearing fans doing a little trash talk during an NBA game is nothing new.
Most times, the side talk is a minor distraction that doesn’t impact players. Rarely, it’s the fuel that ignites a player’s competitive nature and turns into a driving force in ripping the heart out of the crowd.
Some of the more flamboyant players do it regularly, but to see Pistons forward Saddiq Bey do it was … different.
Last week, in the final minute of regulation against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center, the Pistons trailed by two points. Bey hit a tying layup and followed with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 14.1 seconds left.
Bey, usually reserved and somewhat quiet off the court, was a bit more expressive in his enthusiasm for making the go-ahead basket. The Pistons fell behind in overtime also, and Bey made a tying jumper with 2:03 remaining.
It’s been a big week for the Pistons, who have won five of their last seven games, and winning brings some different emotions than their earlier struggles this season.
“I would say I like playing on the road a lot — just as much as home — because it’s just a motivation. I like the boos and crowd,” Bey said. “I’ve had that since college and that same type of atmosphere. It’s kind of like the same mentality of that, so I invite the hostile crowd.”
Beginning with the Charlotte game, Bey is averaging 23.8 points and 5.8 rebounds, and he’s shooting 42.4% on 3-pointers. Mixed in there are several big shots that have turned games and helped boost the recent spurt of wins.
The Pistons’ surge has coincided with getting regular playing time for their Big Three of Bey, Cade Cunningham and Jerami Grant. Bey has been efficient and effective, and continuing the streak of good play he had in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star Weekend.
“Saddiq has been playing great. I gave Saddiq a new nickname. I call him ‘Big Shot’ — and I know they’ll say it’s already taken here (Chauncey Billups) — but Saddiq, hits big shots, and he’s never nervous,” center Isaiah Stewart said. “Whenever we’re down by like three or something, when Saddiq gets the ball and he shoots, I’m under the rebound, but I’m almost sure it’s going in. I told him that’s his new nickname from now on.”
Against the Raptors on Thursday in Toronto, Bey made another clutch shot, driving for a tough layup to extend the Pistons’ lead to three with 14.2 seconds left. They held on for the win, and Bey was asked whether there were any fans talking to him.
“The whole country was talking,” Bey joked, a reference to the Raptors’ rabid fan base at Scotiabank Arena.
Here are five other takeaways from this week:
► Stewart is taking advantage of the touches he gets, and his touch around the rim is significantly improved. He’s been working to finish through contact, and it’s apparent that he’s been making strides there. When there are plays called for him early in games, it seems to get him energized and engaged in the game; even when he doesn’t have plays called, he’s getting second-chance baskets and making his own opportunities.
► Isaiah Livers is going to get a good look in the last stretch of the season. He’s had foot issues for most of his rookie season, but the Pistons coaching staff seems to want to have him get up to speed. With Marvin Bagley III healthy, there could be several permutations, with Bagley at power forward or center and Livers at one of the forward spots. After taking a couple of months to get his foot completely healthy, he’s looking like an NBA player.
► Frank Jackson has been dealing with back spasms for a couple of weeks, and the team said Sunday that he’ll be seeing a specialist and he’ll be evaluated further in a week. With Jackson out, there are more minutes for Hamidou Diallo and Livers on the second unit, and it allows one of the Pistons’ Big Three to play with the second unit for more scoring and stability.
► Even with their recent slate of wins, the Pistons (17-47) remain in the bottom three records in the league with the Houston Rockets (15-48) and Orlando Magic (16-49) close to them. The Oklahoma City Thunder are 20-43, so the Pistons are in a good spot to finish in the bottom three and still have the best chance (14%) at getting the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. It’s unlikely that they’d have back-to-back top picks, but it’s been done before.
► Diallo has been on the injury list with ankle issues, but he still is a good offensive contributor with his athleticism and defense. He’s had several games with multiple steals, and his ability to cause havoc in the passing lanes makes teams change their approach. He’s also had some good rebounding games, including a season-high 14 against the Celtics.
Hawks at Pistons
► Tipoff: 7 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Hawks (31-32) have been up and down this season, but they’ve won five of their last seven games. The Pistons (17-47) also have won five of their last seven, including three of the last four at home.