ATLANTA — The third quarter has become a disaster for the Detroit Pistons. To fix it, Dwane Casey may have to shake up his rotation, including the starting lineup.
Detroit’s head coach teased lineup changes after the Pistons collapsed in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday en route to a 130-105 defeat. The Hawks outscored the Pistons by 17 in the third quarter after trailing by three going into the half. Since Jalen Duren was inserted into the starting five on Dec. 9, the Pistons have since lost five of eight third quarters by at least nine points, and four by at least 12 points.
The problem has become especially recurring over the past week, as the Sacramento Kings outscored them in the third by 15 last Friday, the Brooklyn Nets did so by 19 on Sunday and the Utah Jazz had a nine-point edge on Tuesday. The Pistons aren’t dealing with one particular problem in second halves, but a host of them. They’re taking bad shots, struggling to move the ball and executing poorly on defense.
“We just have to keep tweaking, looking at different lineups in our third quarters and continue to try to give an opportunity to the young guys to come out in the second half,” Casey said after Friday’s loss in Atlanta. “It’s evident that we’re not coming out with the right approach. We’re here to develop those guys. But not at the detriment of losing our spirit, losing our togetherness and losing the games.”
It could be a youth-driven problem, as the Pistons are starting two rookies — Duren and Jaden Ivey — alongside third-year players in Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart. The team is simply struggling to punch back when opposing teams strike after halftime. The Hawks took control Friday with an early 13-0 run in the third quarter, and then opened the fourth quarter with a 12-0 run to ice their rally.
Just as they did in Wednesday’s loss in Philadelphia, the Pistons threw some baffling passes Friday. Hayes, who otherwise had a strong night with 17 points (on 7-for-10 shooting) and five assists, threw a bad cross-court pass intended for Bojan Bogdanovic that landed right in Trae Young’s hands. It set up a transition 3-pointer for De’Andre Hunter on the other end that gave Atlanta a 75-66 lead with 8:41 left in the third quarter. Then, with 9:23 remaining in the game, Hamidou Diallo grabbed a long offensive rebound following a block and threw a wildly inaccurate pass that gave AJ Griffin an easy transition dunk, extending Atlanta’s lead to 26 points.
“I thought we played a solid first half, but whatever approach we’ve tried, we’re doing at halftime, it’s not working,” Casey said. “I’ve got to look at it, our staff has to look at it and see what we can do to tweak it and come out with a different lineup in the second lineup or in the start of the game.”
The second half Friday capped a disappointing week featuring losses of 15, 20 and 25 points. It was even more disheartening considering the first half in Atlanta, in which the Pistons shot 51.1% and had an answer for every Hawks run. After halftime, though, they shot just 30.2% while allowing the Hawks to shoot 59.5%.
Casey has been trying balance giving opportunities to the many young players on the roster and coaching to win games. Often, the two don’t mix. Detroit’s current starting unit gives ample opportunity to its 2022 draft class and has allowed Duren and Stewart, the future frontcourt, to develop chemistry. But the lineup has faltered in second halves, producing frustrating losses.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s second unit — featuring more veterans — has been one of the best in the NBA. Perhaps a better balance can be found.
“They’re young guys, they’re enjoying playing but we gotta make sure we’re playing the right way and understand what it takes to win, especially coming out of the locker room at halftime,” Casey said. “I thought we had the right approach to win the game. We prepared, had an excellent shootaround this morning, spirited. But now you gotta translate that into winning games, or at least coming out of the locker room at halftime with the right approach. It’s been that way since we changed the lineup. We have to look at it with a serious approach. It doesn’t mean guys are not going to play. But we just have to get the right combination coming out.”