Saddiq Bey’s game-winner could become the jolt needed in his uneven Detroit Pistons career

Detroit Free Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Saddiq Bey’s jubilant scream as he marched down the court said it all. The Detroit Pistons needed a win. He needed one, too.

With one second on the clock and the game tied, Bey flashed to the top of the 3-point arc and launched a fadeaway 3-pointer to propel the Pistons to a 122-119 victory over the Golden State Warriors.

Bojan Bogdanovic, who led all scorers with 29 points, was the first option on the final play. But it was Bey, the second option, who called for the ball when he saw he was unchecked, to seize the moment.

It didn’t go exactly how coach Dwane Casey drew it up. But it worked out. After the game, Bey was sheepish as he acknowledged failing to set the second screen he was supposed to set. In the midst of an up-and-down season, he wanted to be the one to win the game. His coaches and teammates are happy it ended up being him.

“I wanted the ball so bad, I felt like my guy was open,” Bey said during his postgame news conference, smiling. “The film session will probably be like, ‘Saddiq, you can’t break off the play like that.’”

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Bey’s third season hasn’t gone as expected after a strong finish to his sophomore run. He’s averaging 13.8 points and 4.2 rebounds, but on 39.9% overall shooting and a career-low 32.3% shooting from 3. It’s the second year in a row he has started the season in a slump. Unlike last year, he has seen his role shift repeatedly as well.

After starting his first 18 games, Bey was moved to the bench Nov. 29. Casey has made it clear it’s not a demotion, but a result of depth at the wing. With Bogdanovic and three bigs in the rotation, something had to give. It can still be difficult for players to adjust to coming off of the bench — and particularly for players like Bey, who started all 82 games last season and the final 53 games of his rookie season.

Bey, who turns 24 in April, has since bounced between the first and second units, largely because of injuries. He has had strong scoring performances and his fair share of off nights. Wednesday wasn’t one of his stronger overall performances: He scored 17 points but hit six of 17 shots. Yet it was one of his most memorable.

“I’m so happy for Saddiq because he’s been in and out of the starting lineup, but he’s been so consistent with what he’s doing,” Bogdanovic said from the podium. “That 3 that he hit, he really deserved it.”

“He was on his Kobe shit,” Killian Hayes, who had nine points, 13 assists and zero turnovers, said in the locker room. “The play was originally for (Bogdanovic) but he didn’t even let Bogey get a chance. He called for it, then he went to the other spot, hit it and just made a great play.”

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It was nearly another collapse for the Pistons, who led by nine points with 1:15 remaining in the third quarter. A fastbreak dunk by Klay Thompson, who later hit the tying 3-pointer with a second left, gave the Warriors a 99-98 lead with 7:34 remaining in the fourth quarter. Thompson missed his first six 3s in the game, but made three of his final four attempts in the fourth to give Golden State a chance.

The Pistons made clutch plays on both ends of the floor to close the game out. With six seconds left leading by one, Alec Burks stole the ball from Jordan Poole, and Hayes made a pair of free throws.

Thompson then tied it.

Bey answered.

This is a pivotal season for Detroit’s 2020 draft class, as all three first-round picks (Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Bey) become extension-eligible this offseason, and are looking to secure their futures — not just with the Pistons, but in the NBA.

Hayes has found his confidence, and Wednesday illustrated just how important his playmaking is for this team. Despite shooting 3-for-12, he deftly conducted the offense and had his best passing performance of the season. He was a plus-12, the best mark of any player, in a game that came down to the final shot.

Stewart is enjoying a career-best season, is shooting the ball well and growing as a leader, while maintaining his impact as a defender.

Now, it’s Bey’s turn. The hope is his game-winner can spark a turnaround. His 38% clip from 3 as a rookie hasn’t been matched, but the team remains confident that, like last season, he can find his rhythm and finish the season strong. Wednesday was the midway point; the Pistons (11-30, third-worst in the NBA) have 41 games remaining. Casey believes Wednesday’s win can give him the needed confidence boost.

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“Very uplifting, very much so,” Casey said. “To me, Saddiq is a sixth starter. To me, him being in the second unit is no demotion for the organization, for our team. He’s responded to it. Last week he was starting, now he’s back coming back off the bench this week when Killian got healthy (returning from suspension). He’s handling it like a pro, he’s done his job and he’s as important as anybody on our team to us.”

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