The Detroit Pistons are a bad team.
They’re a very bad one without Cade Cunningham in the lineup.
Tuesday should have been an ugly night. Cunningham, playing the best ball of his young career, sat with a non-COVID injury as the Pistons hit the road to take on the East-leading Miami Heat. This should have been a laugher, the kind of game you turn off at halftime.
For a few minutes in the third quarter, it looked like it might be.
But the undermanned Pistons scrapped and clawed, led by rookie Isaiah Livers and guard Killian Hayes, hanging around until the final minutes in a 105-96 loss.
I was going to start this off with an eloquent description of how Hayes has evolved in front of our eyes. We’ll get to that, but first we need to talk about the real story of the night the arrival of Isaiah Livers.
I’ll admit, I had low expectations. The rookie from Michigan always seemed to be injured. He’s played well early on, but he still looks sped up at times. I’m not sure he has a single dribble move in his bag of tricks.
But he makes an impact.
He’s a perfect role player for this team, or any team for that matter. He makes open shots, he rebounds, he tries on defense and he doesn’t get in the way on either side of the ball.
As we’ve seen during this rebuild, it can be hard to find guys who can do all of those elementary things. But Livers put together a career-night in Miami, scoring 16 points (6/7 from the field, 4/5 from three) to go with 6 rebounds and 2 assists in 32 minutes.
He’s shown his 3-point ability, but flashed a bit of an in-between game tonight:
He was one of the best Pistons on the floor whenever he was out there.
I think Dwane Casey played him 14-straight minutes in the first half. That says a lot as Casey has gone from “excited to see what he can do” to “leaning on him heavily against the team with the best record in the East” in the span of like two weeks.
I’m excited to see where the Livers experience goes down the stretch.
The same can be said about Hayes.
An aggressive Killian is the best Killian.
When he comes out looking to attack — whether he’s firing up shots or driving and dishing out to teammate — he’s a better player. The team plays better when he has that mindset.
It’s something Hayes has had to learn.
With Cade in the fold, he’s no longer the primary floor general anymore. Cunningham’s arrival has forced Hayes to rethink how he fits on the roster, Be aggressive and get better without the ball, that sixth sense as a passer will open things up.
And all of that is starting to show.
Hayes finished with 9 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds, outplaying an overmatched Cory Joseph by a measure that I can’t really put into words. He was confident, firing off jumpers from the moment he got on the floor, and aggressive, pushing the ball at every opportunity.
Miami really put the Pistons in jail when they played at LCA earlier this season.
Detroit never really looked overmatched tonight — Hayes deserves a lot of credit for that as he kept the ball moving and was a threat to score. His 4/10 shooting wasn’t amazing, but it forced Miami’s hand. The Heat couldn’t sit back and play him as a reluctant scorer.
It’s just too bad he was saddled with five fouls late because I think Hayes could have slowed the Max Strus onslaught. The former DePaul wing torched the Pistons in the fourth quarter en route to 16 points.
His play late pretty much sealed the deal for Miami.
But, in the end, that’s fine. The Pistons notched another competitive loss heading into a significant game in Orlando on Thursday. The Magic and Pistons are (basically) tied for second worst lottery odds at 18 wins a piece.
Detroit has won 2 of the 3 matchups this season, so winning on Thursday would clinch the lottery tiebreaker for Orlando. It’s a big game for the tank, one the Pistons would be better off losing in the long run.
That’s your nightly #tanking update. What’d you think of the effort in Miami? Let us know in the comments!