Detroit — The marquee matchup in the Pistons’ matchup against the Dallas Mavericks was Cade Cunningham and Luka Doncic.
It took a little while, but it didn’t disappoint.
The two stars took center stage just after halftime, with Cunningham posting 11 points, four assists and two steals and Doncic eight points, and six assists — and four turnovers.
That was the sideshow to an entertaining 131-113 victory for the Mavericks on Wednesday night at Little Caesar Arena. The loss ended the Pistons’ three-game win streak with just two games remaining in the regular season: Friday at home against the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks and at Philadelphia on Sunday.
Cunningham finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, Isaiah Stewart 19 points and 14 rebounds — including three 3-pointers — and Braxton Key 14 points and five rebounds for the Pistons (23-57).
Doncic finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists, along with six turnovers for Dallas (50-30), though he shot just 8-of-21 from the field. Jalen Brunson added 24 points and six rebounds.
The third quarter was the highlight, with several one-on-one matches between Cunningham and Doncic. Luka scored five points during an 11-2 run that helped the Mavericks expand their lead to 93-77 with 3:01 left. Brunson had a drive and a jumper as the shot clock expired.
Cunningham answered with a free throw off a technical foul on Doncic, and he was fouled on the ensuing play. He finished with a season-best 11 free-throw attempts, with 10 makes. Cunningham finished the quarter with a 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left to pull the Pistons within 99-86 heading into the final period.
When Doncic wasn’t scoring, he was finding his teammates, making the Pistons’ defense work. Though they had some good individual defense against Doncic, they couldn’t limit what he was able to create for the rest of the team.
“You can take away one thing, but their 3-point shooting is death because you collapse so much and you have to get in rotation with him when Brunson penetrates,” coach Dwane Casey said.
The Mavericks excelled from the 3-point line, hitting 45% (15-of-33), including three each by Davis Bertans and Reggie Bullock.
With a litany of injuries, the Pistons were able to hang around for most of the game, but without several of their starters and rotation players, they were limited in how much they could keep up.
“Tonight, it was an arms race. When you play against a great offensive team, you’ve got to be able to score, or at least keep the scoreboard moving,” Casey said. “We had a stretch there where our second unit got stagnant and (Davis) Bertans comes in (in the fourth quarter) and makes three threes and I thought that opened it up.”
The Pistons couldn’t stay with Dallas the rest of the way, as Davis Bertans hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first 1:01 of the quarter to push the lead to 17.
Frank Jackson (nine points) had a basket and a 3-pointer and after a three-point play by Saben Lee (11 points), Jackson made two more free throws to get within107-98 at the 8:03 mark.
Bertans helped to create some space with another 3-pointer, which started a 16-4 run, helping to put the game away.
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