Detroit — It’s not a case of just playing out the final string of games to end the season. The Pistons are finding ways to make them interesting.
Interesting might not be the best word to describe the second-half comeback the Pistons made, erasing a 17-point deficit against the Washington Wizards, to at least make things intriguing in the fourth quarter.
The Pistons tied it on a 3-pointer by Rodney McGruder and took their first lead since the first quarter on Saddiq Bey’s 3-pointer with 5:02 remaining. The Wizards found their composure and held on for a 100-97 victory on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Marvin Bagley had a season-high 25 points and added five rebounds, Cade Cunningham flirted with a triple-double with 22 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. Isaiah Stewart added 12 points and eight rebounds and Killian Hayes 10 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Pistons (20-54).
“I liked the way we did fight, the way we came back. We can’t dig a hole. If we’re building winning habits, we can’t give a team of 35-point second quarter and come out playing as soft as we did in the first half,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I really liked the way we competed and came back, but to create an identity of playing, you’ve got to start the game the way we ended it.”
The Pistons had their largest lead of the second half after Bagley followed Bey’s 3-pointer with an alley-oop pass from Cunningham. The Wizards (31-42) followed with six straight points, including a 3-pointer from Corey Kispert, a free throw from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a dunk by Kristaps Porzingis (30 points and nine rebounds), for a 96-93 lead.
Cunningham took center stage with a pair of jumpers on the next two possessions, giving the Pistons a one-point lead, but Porzingis had another answer with a tough jumper in the lane, putting the Wizards back ahead.
Deni Avdija had a career-high 21 points and added 10 rebounds and four assists, and his two free throws with 11.4 seconds remaining pushed the lead to three. The Pistons had a late look at a potential tying 3-pointer from Rodney McGruder, but it was off the mark.
After some struggles this season, the Pistons have figured out how to stay closer in the second halves of games. The issue in the first half was giving up 60 points, though they outscored the Wizards, 26-19, in the third quarter, to make it close to start the fourth quarter.
“We’ve just grown. We had our struggles and growing pains throughout the year,” Stewart said. “Going into next season, the way we’re ending this season…next season is going to be different.”
Bagley ignited the run at the start of the fourth quarter, with a par of baskets, along with two baskets from Braxton Key, whom the Pistons signed to a 10-day contract on Thursday. Kelly Olynyk didn’t play Friday so Key could get more playing time. He finished with four points, five rebounds and two blocks in 18 minutes.
The Wizards had a 60-44 lead at halftime after a 12-3 run to finish the quarter, with a lay-in and a three-point play by Porzingis. Rui Hachimura (11 points and five rebounds) added a dunk to boost the surge.
“Coming into the second half, I felt like we did a better job defensively,” Stewart said. “I feel like that’s the approach we should had from the beginning of the game.”
Jerami Grant (calf strain) didn’t play in the second half and Bagley started the third quarter with a basket, starting a 9-0 run, but a strange sequence helped stem the tide.
Cunningham looked to have a chance at a three-point play after a basket, but the officials discussed the call and overturned the play, ruling it an offensive foul on Cunningham. Casey was angry at the call and arguing getting a technical foul, and he challenged the call.
After review, the officials overturned the call, noting that it was an inadvertent whistle. The Wizards made the free throw, so it was only a one-point advantage for the Pistons.
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