SACRAMENTO — Cory Joseph summed it up well — the Detroit Pistons played hard, but they didn’t play smart.
Despite leading for nearly 19 minutes in the second half and nine minutes in the fourth quarter, the Pistons fell to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, 137-129. Sacramento used a late 18-5 run to pull away with their sixth-straight win, and were helped by mistakes on Detroit’s end.
“At a certain point in time you can’t hang your hat on just playing hard,” Joseph said. “It’s the NBA, the best league in the world. You gotta play hard and smart, which at the end there, we had some mental lapses.”
The Pistons led by seven with 8:15 remaining in the game, and by five at the 5:27 mark after a pair of free throws by Marvin Bagley III. But Kings wing Kevin Huerter hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 3:24 to play, and his 3 was preceded by an offensive rebound and assist by Domantas Sabonis. The Kings had previously switched Bagley III onto De’Aaron Fox, taking him out of rebounding position and leaving Killian Hayes to attempt to box out a much bigger player.
Sabonis grabbed another offensive board with 2:44 to play, tracking down a long rebound off of a missed 3-pointer from Huerter. Sabonis found Huerter at the top of the key once again, and Huerter then dumped the ball off to Harison Barnes for a dunk that gave Sacramento a 126-125 lead. A turnover by Jaden Ivey led to another Huerter 3 that extended the Kings’ lead to four with 1:29 remaining.
The Pistons turned the ball over twice and gave up two offensive rebounds in the final 4:30 of the game, helping the Kings go on their game-clinching run. It was Detroit’s seventh-straight loss.
“Tonight, it was our defensive rebounding,” Dwane Casey said after the game. “We had a stretch there where we gave up two or three in one possession, and that’s huge. Especially late in the game. They’ve done a decent job throughout the game, but in crunch time we have to make sure we find bodies, get loose balls and get stops. How we can lose one of the best shooters in the league in Huerter, who’s shooting over 50% from 3, we lost him three times down the stretch. They’re playing their hearts out. It’s attention to detail.”
On paper, the Kings should’ve won Sunday’s game. They’ve emerged as one of the best teams in the Western Conference and improved to 9-6 overall. Sabonis, a two-time All-Star, finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and made key plays down the stretch. Fox, who entered Sunday averaging 24.8 points and 6.4 assists per game, should be a favorite to make his first All-Star game this season and led all scorers with 33 points.
The Pistons, of course, have been battered by injuries. Cade Cunningham missed his sixth-straight game with left shin soreness, and could miss significantly more time as the team figures out how to treat a suspected stress fracture in his shin. Isaiah Stewart missed his third-straight game with a right big toe strain, and Saddiq Bey had his streak of 152-straight games broken with a right foot sprain.
But despite being down three of their best five players, the Pistons played well enough to win. Their 129 points were a season-high, and they led for the majority of the game. Sacramento shot 55.3% overall and made 31 of 35 free-throw attempts.
“We gotta keep getting better, keep growing,” Casey said. “We’re not getting rewarded during games against some of these teams, they’re one of the top teams in the league right now, in the West. We’re not getting rewarded with our play. Like I’ve said, we were stretching periods of good play. We’re not consistent with that.
“Those are the growing pains we have to go through. It’s tough because guys were playing hard, but now we have to play with focus, basketball IQ, all those things down the stretch.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.