Detroit — Enthusiasm radiated throughout Little Caesars Arena in the moments immediately following Killian Hayes’ dagger 3-pointer over Tim Hardaway Jr. to seal Thursday night’s overtime win for the Pistons.
The fans fortunate enough to sit courtside had a front-row view of the most significant shot of Hayes’ early basketball career. A couple of them raised their hands to celebrate early, before the ball reached the rim. Every player on the Pistons bench smiled from ear to ear and rushed onto the court to embrace Hayes during the final timeout of the game.
Pistons rookie Jaden Ivey, who knocked down a clutch triple the minute before, turned to Hayes and told him: “Good shot.”
It was the icing on the cake for Hayes, who scored 14 of his season-high 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime of Thursday’s 131-125 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
“Seeing the first one go in felt good,” Hayes said after the game. “They were switching me to one-on-one matchups. … It just felt right to shoot another, and another. We had a big game as well, so it just feels good to win.”
Hayes has started the past 11 games for Detroit while Cade Cunningham is sidelined due to shin soreness. With the increased opportunity, a more confident version of Hayes has emerged. He’s averaging 11.8 points, 6.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game in those contests. He’s also knocking down 40% of his 3-pointers, an area he emphasized during the offseason.
“He’s more settled,” Isaiah Stewart said. “When I see a difference between then and now, obviously you mentioned confidence but he believes he’s that kind of player. He hit some big shots tonight and it was great to see.”
Stewart, the No. 16 pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, entered the league at the same time as Hayes and Pistons forward Saddiq Bey.
The version of Hayes on display now is similar to the his level of play during the preseason, when he appeared comfortable and poised in his decision-making, offensive ability and focus on the defensive end. He struggled once the regular season began. He averaged just 2.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists through the first eight games of the season. Stewart said the team encouraged him often after games during nights when things weren’t going his way.
“I’m sure he got tired of us talking to him,” Stewart said, “but even on nights like this we still talk to him. We tell him to keep going and just keep encouraging him.”
Hayes connected on three consecutive mid-range shots, an area he’s found success in throughout the last few weeks of the season, to keep Detroit afloat in the fourth quarter.
“Mid-range has always been a part of my game and just being comfortable,” Hayes said. “I take what the defense gives me. I’m going to take it; I feel really comfortable taking that shot.”
Mavericks coach Jason Kidd applauded Hayes for making shots down the stretch during his postgame press conference.
“Late with the mid-range — he made three of those — and the resistance from our defense wasn’t there as a whole, wasn’t high. It was more like a shootaround,” Kidd said. “Their guys got rhythm, and we give Hayes credit. He has confidence, and it’s hard to slow guys down.”
Hayes was the closer of Thursday’s game, but Bojan Bogdanovic was the engine that kept the team going throughout. He matched Luka Doncic’s 35-point performance with his second 30-point output of the season.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey was asked about Bogdanovic and Hayes after the game and while he complimented the eight-year veteran for steering the ship, he gave the most praise to his third-year point guard.
“The guy I’m proud of is Killian Hayes,” Casey said. “He made some big shots, big plays, big passes. Defensively, he was active in our blitzes. So, really proud of the way he played and bounced back…All around good effort byeverybody. We could’ve folded the tent three or four times – they cut the lead, cut the lead, and we dropped ourshoulders – but bounced back in overtime.
“It’s a broken record, but we need to learn how to close games, finish games and believe that we can win. As young players that’s such a fine line, but I thought Killian fought through that tonight.”