The first 40 minutes of the Detroit Pistons‘ Friday match against the Boston Celtics followed a similar script to the first two. The Pistons have been surprisingly competitive against the Eastern Conference contender this season, defeating them, 112-111, in Boston on Feb. 16 and playing them closely in Detroit on Feb. 26 before falling behind in the final period.
On Friday, Cade Cunningham knocked down a 3-pointer with 59 seconds left in the third quarter to give the Pistons a 90-88 lead. It was the 20th lead change of the night. But Boston took the final lead change of the game before the quarter ended, and the Pistons played basically a full quarter before they got their next shot to fall.
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The Pistons went 2-for-15 in the fourth, and missed their first 13 shots of the period. Saddiq Bey finally broke the drought with 30 seconds left on a layup, and Luka Garza hit a midrange jumper before the final buzzer. It was too little, too late, as Boston outscored Detroit 22-13 in the fourth to win, 114-103.
Cunningham had another strong outing with 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and Marvin Bagley III had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Jerami Grant added 20 points.
Jayson Tatum, who has been one of the NBA’s most prolific scorers in recent weeks and had 168 points in his previous four games entering Friday, led all scorers with 31 points. Boston shot just 6-for-32 from 3-point range, but the Pistons ran out of steam as they managed a short bench. Frank Jackson (bilateral lumbar spine spasm), Isaiah Stewart (right knee bone bruise), Killian Hayes (right abductor contusion), Hamidou Diallo (left finger sprain) and Rodney McGruder (left hamstring strain) all sat out with injuries.
Cunningham continues late-season surge
The Rookie of the Year race isn’t over yet. Cunningham entered Friday’s loss on a tear, averaging 21.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists over his previous nine games — a 6-3 stretch for the Pistons. Cunningham hasn’t lacked confidence this season, but he’s playing with a level of poise and know-how we haven’t seen previously.
Friday was another strong night for Cunningham despite a poor final period for the Pistons. He did nearly all of his damage through the first three quarters, tallying 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Cunningham made 10 of his first 21 shots, and it was clear he was in for a big night when he made five of his first seven shots in the first quarter for 21 points.
But Detroit’s offense went cold in the fourth, and Cunningham — who appeared to be gassed — was unable to snap the Pistons out of their slump. Cunningham went 0-for-6 in the fourth quarter. The Celtics keyed in on the rookie, and he shot 3-for-11 in the second half.
Friday was Cunningham’s seventh game with at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in a game, tying a franchise rookie record set by Grant Hill. The rest of the 2021 rookie class has four such games this season.
Bagley continues to showcase scoring prowess
He hasn’t been with the Pistons very long, but this much is clear about Bagley — he can score. Friday was his best offensive outing as a Piston yet, as he scored 20 points for the first time since arriving at the trade deadline.
Bagley can score in a variety of ways. He has solid touch from midrange and deft touch in the post, runs hard in transition and hits the offensive glass. He’s also the best lob threat on the roster by a significant margin, and his teammates have gotten better at looking for him when he has space down low. Cunningham and Joseph fed him for alley-oops in the first quarter, and lob plays have become a featured part of Casey’s playcalling in recent weeks.
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