Big nights from Cade Cunningham, Bojan Bogdanovic can’t end Pistons’ 118-113 fall to Hawks

Detroit Free Press

Cade Cunningham and Bojan Bogdanovic did everything they could to keep the Detroit Pistons competitive. Ultimately, the Atlanta Hawks’ offensive firepower — and Detroit’s own miscues down the stretch — led to the Pistons dropping their fourth consecutive game.

The Pistons lost to the Hawks at Little Caesars Arena, 118-113, despite big nights from Bogdanovic (33 points) and Cunningham (26 points, seven rebounds, six assists). The duo erupted in the first half, combining for 38 points on 16-for-24 shooting to help Detroit rally back from an early 12-point deficit. Bogdanovic kept rolling in the second half, pouring in 13 points in the final four minutes to keep Detroit within striking distance.

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But Detroit committed four untimely turnovers and allowed the Hawks to shoot nine free throws before intentionally fouling in the final seconds in the final period. Saddiq Bey, who otherwise had a solid night with 17 points, also missed a pair of free throws with a minute left that would’ve cut the deficit to one point. Cunningham had seven of Detroit’s 14 turnovers, a significant blight on his otherwise good night.

Bogdanovic did his best to save the night, completing a four-point play to bring the Pistons within a point with 1:23 left and a sidestep 3-pointer to bring them within three with 17 seconds left. But Trae Young, who led all scorers with 35 points, sank two free throws with 12 seconds remaining to ice the win for Atlanta.

Rookie guard Jaden Ivey missed Wednesday’s game for the Pistons with a non-COVID illness.

The Pistons fall to 1-4 overall, and will get a rematch against the Hawks at home on Friday.

Strong first half gets Cunningham back on track

The Pistons badly needed Cunningham’s performance on Wednesday. But he needed it more.

Through four games, the second-year burgeoning franchise player was unable to establish the offensive pace that enabled him to have a record-setting rookie season — a season befitting a No. 1 pick. He missed shots that fell for him last season while seemingly searching for his place in an offense that added go-to scorers this offseason.

Detroit’s offense has often looked listless this season. It needed someone to step up. Against the Hawks, that was Cunningham.

He scored 22 of his 26 points in the first half, making a point to establish himself as the offensive focal point the Pistons needed. Cunningham took 15 shots in the first half, knocking down 10. In a shift from his usual approach, he did most of his damage inside the 3-point line, with just one 3-point attempt during the first two quarters.

It paid off, as Cunningham bullied multiple Hawks defenders during his assault. He looked comfortable knocking down stepback and crossover midrange jumpers and made a point to get to the rim as well. With four seconds before halftime, he dug his shoulder into Justin Holiday to create enough room to knock down a midrange basket and cut Atlanta’s lead to one, 62-61.

Midway through the third quarter, Cunningham found himself wide open behind the arc. The 3-point attempt rattled out, and it was his final 3-point attempt of the night. He stuck with what worked on Wednesday, and it helped him put together his best performance of the young season.

Livers gives second unit a needed lift

Before the game, coach Dwane Casey was asked if the starting five’s offensive cold spells were partially due to players figuring out their place in the pecking order. Casey disagreed — Detroit’s biggest issue has been its second unit.

The Pistons’ bench was dramatically outscored in its three previous losses. Injuries are partially to blame, as the bench is missing two key scorers in Marvin Bagley III and Alec Burks. But it’s tough to win games when the opposing team’s bench doubles up your points, as the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards all did or came close to doing to the Pistons.

Isaiah Livers took some time to find his rhythm after exiting preseason with hip soreness. He found it Wednesday, scoring 12 points and knocking down four of six 3-pointers in 24 minutes of action. He was Detroit’s only reserve to reach double figures in points.

Over the whole season, it may only be a moderate contribution. But it was a big lift Wednesday for a unit that has struggled to do much of anything on offense.

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