Detroit — If there’s anything to take away from the Pistons’ first game of the 2022-23 campaign, regardless of the score, it’s the team’s resilience.
With 11.6 seconds left in the game, Cade Cunningham drove to the basket and dished to a wide open Isaiah Stewart, who calmly knocked down a corner 3-point shot he’d been practicing throughout the offseason.
The moment was significant because Stewart had missed his previous three 3-pointers, but trusted his ability to make the one that really counted.
“That last one was the right play,” coach Dwane Casey said. “The play was for Cade, we created an open area for cade down the middle of the paint and the guy sucked in off the weakside corner and Cade made the right basketball play, which was big time.”
Despite a late rally by Orlando, Detroit maintained composure and held on for a 113-109 victory — its first win in a season opener since Oct. 23, 2019, when Detroit beat the Indiana Pacers 119-110.
“It was huge for him, for his confidence,” Casey said in regard to Stewart. “He was what 1-for-4 from 3? I was proud of him – he didn’t keep hunting ’em. The game didn’t present itself to him, and he made the right plays.”
Casey revealed the final play was drawn up for Cunningham to call his own number to try and score inside. However, when Cunningham saw he was trapped, he made the right basketball play and trusted Stewart with the most important shot of the night.
“I try to play honest, and really see the floor and see what they give me,” Cunningham said. “I had just missed two before. I wanted to score that last one, but I trust (Isaiah)’s work. He’s been working his butt off the whole summer, and last year. I saw him open and I felt like it was gonna go in. He stepped up and made the shot. I think that’s just a testament to his mental toughness.”
New Piston forward Bojan Bogdanovic had a sluggish preseason due to a calf strain, but once the Pistons’ forward saw his first 3-pointer go down from the corner, the floodgates opened. He finished with a team-high 23 points, five rebounds and two assists.
Despite the Magic’s size advantage, the Pistons opted for offense with a starting lineup of Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Saddiq Bey, Bogdanovic and Stewart.
Cunningham had a double-double of 18 points and 10 assists. In his NBA debut, Ivey had 19 points, four assists and three rebounds.
“It’s just special,” Ivey said after the game. “You dream as a kid to play your first NBA game. It’s just special that I get to play for Detroit as a kid that grew up watching Detroit.”
The group started out in entertaining fashion, as Cunningham found his teammates for easy baskets inside on the Pistons’ first two possessions. The first was to a cutting Ivey for his first career basket. The other, he drew two defenders and found Stewart for a two-handed dunk.
After Ivey found Bey for another score, the Pistons’ magic ran out magic for the remainder of the quarter. Orlando went on a 16-0 run to put an end to any momentum Detroit had until Bey scored a floater to stop the bleeding.
The Pistons were discombobulated early on due to the Magic’s length, from the outside and the interior. With three of their frontcourt players at 6-foot-10, that size made it hard for the Pistons to drive into the paint and even harder to shoot over.
However, the Pistons bounced back from a 17-point first quarter and exploded for 40 points in the second quarter to erase a 15-point Magic lead.
Jalen Duren had an impressive NBA debut with 14 points, 11 rebounds and the first poster dunks of his career. The 18-year old out of Memphis rose over Chuma Okeke for a one-handed slam, causing the fans inside Little Caesars Arena to give a rousing ovation. Later in the game, he rose for a dunk on Magic center Mo Bamba.
The Magic were balanced offensively as five different players scored in double figures, led by 27 points from No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, who also added nine rebounds and five assists in his NBA debut. Jalen Suggs, who started at point guard in place of Cole Anthony (illness), had 21 points. Franz Wagner added 20 points and four rebounds.
The Pistons (1-0) will begin a three-game road trip starting with the New York Knicks on Friday, followed by the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.