Detroit Pistons pounded inside by Jonas Valanciunas and New Orleans Pelicans, 116-110

Detroit Free Press

The New Orleans Pelicans threatened to put the game away early, taking a 17-point lead midway through the third quarter following a 3-pointer from rookie point guard Dyson Daniels.

The Detroit Pistons rallied back, cutting the deficit to three with 3:17 remaining following a midrange jumper by Bojan Bogdanovic. But their comeback attempt fell short, as Jonas Valanciunas hit a pair of free throws with 1:36 to play to ice the game.

The Pistons fell to the Pelicans at home, 116-110. Valanciunas (33 points, 16 rebounds, 12-for-15 overall shooting) feasted against a Pistons team awaiting the return of three of their four big men from injury. Bogdanovic led Detroit with 22 points, and Saddiq Bey (20 points, 10 rebounds, 9-for-10 at the line), Hamidou Diallo (19 points on 9-for-11 shooting) and Killian Hayes (17 points, six assists) also had strong nights.

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Detroit was hurt by poor outside shooting (7-for-30 from 3) and a cold second quarter that allowed New Orleans to take control. And the Pistons were unable to capitalize on the Pelicans’ injury issues, as the high-scoring duo of Zion Williamson (right hamstring strain) and Brandon Ingram (great left toe contusion) both missed the game.

Pistons suffer from lack of depth up front, but Diallo shines

The Pistons hoped for improved health on Friday, but instead had even fewer players available compared to Wednesday. Cory Joseph missed Friday’s game due to personal reasons, and Jalen Duren (right ankle soreness) and Isaiah Stewart (left shoulder soreness) missed their fourth and third straight games, respectively.

Couple that with Marvin Bagley III’s ongoing absence as he recovers from surgery to repair metacarpal fractures in his right hand (as well as Cade Cunningham’s continued absence as he recovers from shin surgery, though he returned to Detroit’s bench on Friday) and the Pistons simply didn’t have much firepower.

Valanciunas capitalized on Detroit’s lack of size up front, scoring 13 of his 33 points in the first quarter on 6-for-7 shooting. He picked up where he left off after halftime, scoring six points within the first four minutes of the third quarter. Nerlens Noel picked up his fourth foul trying to deter a Valanciunas layup attempt at the 8:30 mark, forcing Dwane Casey to sub him out for Diallo while Valanciunas remained in the game. Diallo and Isaiah Livers proceeded to split time at the five.

Diallo helped energize the second unit while playing center as Valanciunas sat and continued his strong play after Valanciunas re-entered the game midway through the fourth quarter. He hit a layup to cut the deficit to eight with about nine minutes left in the game. Bogdanovic found Diallo on a cut to set up an easy dunk for the athletic forward at the 7:01 mark, and Diallo stole an entry pass to Valanciunas and pushed the ball in transition to get himself a layup to slash the Pelicans’ lead to four, 98-94, at the 6:05 mark.

The Pistons have utilized him as an undersized big this season, and he has found a rhythm operating primarily as a cutter, in transition and out of the dunker’s spot on offense. Casey ended up riding Diallo down the stretch, and he finished most of the fourth period before subbing out with 22 seconds left. Friday was his eighth time in 10 games reaching double figures off of the bench.

Cold second quarter hurts Detroit

Bogdanovic, Hayes and Bey did what they could to keep the Pistons afloat. They accounted for all 28 of Detroit’s points in the opening period, and Bogdanovic started hot by making his first six shots.

Detroit’s bench was unable to pick up the scoring slack, and the Pelicans took control of the game in the second quarter with a 19-4 run that gave them a 59-44 lead toward the end of the period. The Pistons shot 8-for-23 overall in the second quarter after knocking down half of their shots in the first.

Alec Burks, usually a reliable shooter, missed four of his five shots in the first half. Detroit’s depth issues were apparent, as the second unit missed Bagley’s interior presence. The bench has been among the NBA’s highest-scoring this season, but tallied just nine points in the first half. The Pelicans shot 50% overall and from behind the arc in the second quarter and carried a 59-50 lead into halftime.

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