PHILADELPHIA — The Detroit Pistons accomplished what they needed to accomplish during their season finale on Sunday: Lose.
The Pistons entered the game needing a loss to hold off the Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA’s third-worst record (and the No. 3 odds in the 2022 NBA draft lottery. The Philadelphia 76ers team had a shot at the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, but opted to sit stars James Harden and Joel Embiid. The end result: The Pistons still fell to the Sixers on the road, 118-106.
The Pistons finish their 2021-22 season at 23-59 and will have a 14% chance at the No. 1 pick, and 52.1% chance of remaining in the top four when the lottery balls are drawn on May 17. Luka Garza led Detroit with 20 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes, and Isaiah Livers added 14 points. Tyrese Maxey led all Philly starters with 25 points, while Shake Milton had a game-high 30 points for the 76ers.
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Detroit used a 33-13 run to turn a 15-point deficit to a 67-62 lead early in the third quarter. But the Sixers took control from there, closing the third with a five-point lead and leading by as many as 17 points in the fourth.
Pistons wind down rotation, sit starters
It’s common for NBA teams — both in the playoff hunt and looking at lottery odds — to rest players at the end of the season. The Pistons and the Sixers did so on Sunday. Philadelphia sat Embiid (right knee soreness) and Harden (left hamstring injury recovery), and Detroit sat Cade Cunningham (right hip soreness).
Dwane Casey also benched Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes during the second half. It allowed Garza, Saben Lee, Carsen Edwards, Braxton Key and Jamorko Pickett to get extended runs, as well as making it easier to secure a loss ahead of the draft lottery.
Stewart showcases comfort as 3-point shooter
Through the Pistons’ first 74 games this season, Stewart attempted just 28 3-pointers and knocked down four — a 14.3% shooting percentage. In their final eight games, however, Stewart took 18 3-pointers and hit 11 — 61.1%.
Stewart’s first made 3 on Sunday demonstrated how comfortable he has become with the shot. After idly dribbling along the perimeter, he calmly pulled up and drained a 3 in front of DeAndre Jordan. On Detroit’s following possession, he knocked down a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer without hesitation.
The coaching staff has avoided setting expectations too high for Stewart’s maturation as a floor-spacer, but he has clearly made strides. He closed Detroit’s season with his best stretch as a shooter, with mechanics that are clean and confident. It’s a shot he has worked on since he entered the NBA, and one he and coach Dwane Casey have both said will one day be a consistent part of his arsenal.
The only question is whether his transformation as a floor-spacing five will occur as soon as next season.
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has a digital subscription model. Here’s how you can access to our most exclusive Pistons content all offseason. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.