Detroit — The Pistons’ fast-and-furious comeback fell short in Sunday afternoon’s 104-102 loss to the Knicks, but they did get a special performance from forward Marvin Bagley III.
Bagley had a season-high 27 points on 11-for-14 shooting with seven rebounds, and is giving the franchise cause to believe they just might have something in the former NBA No. 2 overall draft pick obtained six weeks ago.
“It was spectacular,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “Again, I said it the last game, Marvin is real find for our organization. How many times do you get the opportunity to get (a second overall pick). You usually get them when they are on their last leg. … But we got Marvin at 23. That’s a heck of a get for us.”
Bagley had 25 points in 35 minutes Friday, when going in early after Jerami Grant came out with a left calf strain in that loss to the Washington Wizards. He got the start Sunday and was superb, making his first six shots.
“It’s just opportunity and I think I’m getting a great opportunity here,” Bagley said. “I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
BOX SCORE: Knicks 104, Pistons 102
He’s clearly happy with his new team.
“I like the chemistry — the camaraderie that we already built,” Bagley said. “From the first game I got here, the guys were great welcoming me. Obviously, it was new, but I didn’t feel like I was the odd-man out because they welcomed me, and I kind of fit right in with the group.
“We have fun out there. We play hard. We learn on the fly. Not everything is perfect, but we play hard and that’s all you can ask for. And we’ve got to continue to learn and grow, and the wins will come.”
Bagley was a gamer in the final three minutes, draining a 3-pointer from the corner and then getting fouled while putting down a reverse dunk on a pass from Cade Cunningham and adding the free throw for six points in 39 seconds. He slapped fives with teammates and chest-bumped Cunningham.
High energy was his calling card in this one.
Bagley got a defensive rebound midway the fourth quarter, and seven seconds later scored on an alley oop pass from Cunningham to make it 90-90. Cunningham reached the 1,000-point plateau in the first half to finish with 18 points (7-for-18 shooting), seven assists, two blocked shots and one steal.
However, after Saddiq Bey’s defensive rebound and a timeout with 6.6 seconds remaining, Cunningham had the ball stripped by Alec Burks while going up for the potential game-tying shot and couldn’t recover it before the game ended. Detroit (20-55) never led after the first quarter.
New York (33-42) received potent scoring from starters RJ Barrett (21 points), Julius Randle (20) and Burks (18). Guard Immanuel Quickley came off the bench to score 18. Detroit was out-rebounded, 50-37, with forward Barrett and center Mitchell Robinson both grabbing nine for the Knicks.
The Pistons trailed by as many as 21 points, and Bagley was the only player stepping up early. However, the second quarter was a 25-25 draw and Detroit took over in the third quarter with a 32-21 advantage.
Bey got eight of his 14 points in the quarter, and guard Frank Jackson came off the bench to score seven. Center Isaiah Stewart (10 points and 10 rebounds for his 10th double-double this season) passed superbly with three assists in that quarter, when guard Cory Joseph grabbed five rebounds.
Bagley couldn’t have responded better to getting the start at power forward with leading scorer Grant (19.2 points) out.
Bagley (6-foot-11) gained position, moved well without the ball and made all six shots taken in the first quarter for 12 points — one over his game scoring average.
He’s developing good chemistry with guard Cunningham, who fed him for a one-handed slam that Bagley volleyball-spiked through the net for his first points.
Then Bagley went to the hole for a bucket before sending down a two-hand slam. He drove the baseline to flick in a reverse shot for a pretty score that made it 12-11 for the Pistons. It was their only lead in the game.
While Bagley added another dunk on an alley-oop pass from Cunningham and was six-for-six, the rest of Detroit’s lineup was 3-for-13 in the first quarter.
That enabled the Knicks to take a 34-22 led after the first 12 minutes.
Bagley, obtained Feb. 10 in a four-team trade, was averaging 11 points overall and 14.4 for Detroit entering the game. The Duke one-and-done was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings.
His grandfather, Joe Caldwell, played two of six NBA seasons with the Pistons, 1964-66. Caldwell also played five ABA seasons, and was one of 20 players making the All-Star team in both leagues.
So, it was a coming-home story in a family sense for Bagley.
Pistons general manager Troy Weaver obtained him for forwards Josh Jackson and Trey Lyles and two second-round draft picks sent to Sacramento Feb. 10.
It was clear to see Casey’s glee in discussing what Bagley could mean moving forward.
Casey alluded to Detroit getting another likely top-three draft pick to go with No. 1 overall Cunningham from 2021, a strong corps of young players, and perhaps signing a veteran on the open market.
“Now, we add another young player and free agency,” Casey said. “I will go to war with this group at any time.”
Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.