Observations: Grizzlies’ Ja Morant brings highlight reel to Detroit

Detroit News

Detroit — Ja Morant stole the ball from Bojan Bogdanovic and dribbled down the court at a speed not too many players in the NBA can reach.

When Pistons guard Cory Joseph tried to prevent him from getting to the rim, Morant dribbled between his back and through his legs before emphatically dunking the ball with two hands.

It was one of many highlight plays during the Pistons’ 126-111 loss in their preseason finale on Thursday night.

Morant wasn’t just effective on the offensive end. While guarding Jaden Ivey early in the first quarter, Morant was able to get his fingertips on a 3-pointer attempt and received the ball in transition for his first dunk of the game.

On another occasion, Morant received the ball inside the post and pump-faked before rising for a vertical dunk.

The Pistons have had their fair share of trouble from guards throughout the preseason. There was Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett in last week’s loss to the Knicks. Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado scored 28 against the Pistons defense.

Lastly, Morant put on an offensive showcase with his 31 points, including 17 in the third quarter.

The Pistons will need to beef up its defense against future backcourts going forward once the regular season begins.

Here are a few more observations from Detroit’s loss to Memphis:

3-point shooting woes

The Pistons struggled mightily from beyond the arc on Tuesday. After launching 52 attempts from 3, the Pistons only saw 15 go inside the basket.

It was a clear example of living and dying by the 3-pointer. The Grizzlies didn’t shoot the ball particularly well either, finishing with a 7-of-32 clip.

Stewart made four of the Pistons’ 3-pointers and Knox made three of his own. But Saddiq Bey couldn’t connect from the arc, making just 1-of-7 from distance. Bojan Bogdanovic went 0-for-3 in his first game back from a calf injury. Cunningham showed confidence with his shot, but only managed to make two of his eight attempts.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey said even though the Pistons missed their opportunities from distance, what hurt them was the inability to get back on defense in transition.

“They got us in transition and when we were worried about a non-call, missed shot, whatever. You gotta flip the switch and then get back,” Casey said.

Stewart’s rollercoaster night

Isaiah Stewart scored the game’s first points as he received a slip pass from Saddiq Bey for a wide open dunk.

The three-year Pistons big tried his hand from the perimeter for the remainder of the first quarter, but it didn’t quite go as he planned. Stewart has shown the ability to knock down standstill 3-pointers throughout the preseason, but he missed his first four attempts from the arc.

For most players, they’d look to go back inside the paint after such an unsuccessful start from deep. That wasn’t the case for Stewart.

When Stewart returned early in the second quarter, he continued to let them fly. He knocked his fifth attempt down to bring the Pistons within 10 points. Then he made another.

The hot streak didn’t stop there. He received a pass from Cunningham and drained his third straight attempt from the corner, looking back at the Grizzlies’ bench as he ran back down the floor.

Stewart finished 3-of-8 from 3-point land on Thursday, and despite the percentage, his confidence to not let his early struggles affect him is what stands out the most.

“I work too hard to pass them up,” Stewart said after the game.

Saddiq’s interior game

Saddiq Bey is known as a perimeter shooter, but he made his living on the inside Thursday night. The third-year forward showed an improved ability to put the ball on the floor, attacking the basket when his shot wasn’t falling.

Defenses are starting to key in on Bey’s ability to knock down the 3, and he was able to do good things when the Grizzlies ran him off the line. For instance, Bey caught the ball at the elbow and took one dribble and drew several defenders in the air to draw an and-one and finish through the contact.

Bey avoided contact in another instance and threw up a floater.

Adding an inside game will bode well for Bey, especially when he’s struggling from distance.

Knox’s Pistons debut

After battling a right gastroc strain throughout the majority of training camp, Kevin Knox made his Pistons debut on Thursday. His addition gave Detroit another able-body since the team has six players currently on the injury report.

Knox, the former lottery pick from 2018, had two good looks from 3-point range, but couldn’t knock them down.

When his shot wasn’t falling, Knox remained aggressive and drove to the basket the next time he got the ball. He drew a foul and made both free-throw attempts, allowing him to see the ball go inside the basket.

He re-entered the game in the third quarter and went on a scoring binge himself, making his next three attempts from distance. Knox signed with Detroit in the offseason, saying he wanted to bring his 3-point shooting to the table. So far, he’s making good on that promise.

mcurtis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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