Detroit — The Pistons were able to use their small lineup to their advantage on Wednesday night against Rudy Gobert and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
However, Pistons coach Dwane Casey knew that strategy would be a challenge against Jonas Valanciunas and the New Orleans Pelicans.
Without Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart and Marvin Bagley III, the Pistons simply couldn’t overcome the size disadvantage and post presence of Valanciunas, who led the Pelicans to a 116-110 win at Little Caesars Arena on Friday night.
New Orleans led by 17, but the Pistons didn’t wither away. They came within four after Jaden Ivey threw down an explosive dunk, bringing the crowd and the Pistons’ bench to their feet. They cut the deficit to one possession when Bojan Bogdanovic drilled a fadeaway jumper with 3:27 to trail by just three.
After New Orleans went on a mini-scoring run, Detroit (12-34) came within four once again with 25.4 seconds left, but Valanciunas clinched the victory with a couple of free throws. The were just a couple of possessions short of completing the comeback.
It was Detroit’s second loss to New Orleans (26-17) this season, They dropped a 104-98 decision on Dec. 7.
Here are some quick takeaways from Friday’s loss:
Valanciunas’ presence: The Pistons had only one center to matchup with Valanciunas, a 7-footer with the ability to score inside and out. The Pelicans big man scored 13 of his 33 points in the first quarter and 12 in the fourth. He used his size in the post early on. Later in the quarter, he knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Valanciunas was a constant for the Pelicans, even as the Pistons tried to make their run in the fourth quarter. He utilized his length to draw fouls and grab offensive rebounds, especially since he was defended by Diallo for the latter part of the fourth quarter. Valanciunas totaled a game-high 27 points and 15 rebounds on 11-of-14 shooting. The Pistons need at least one of their bigs to return from injury. If they don’t they’ll continue to get dominated by some of the best post players in the league.
Bogdanovic’s consistency: The Pistons trailed by nine in the first quarter, but battled their way back thanks to a flurry of early shots from Bojan Bogdanovic. The veteran forward knocked down his first six field goals, which included a 3-pointer, and made a free throw. Bogdanovic carried the Pistons’ offense until he was subbed out toward the end of the first quarter. He returned at the 8:13 mark of the second quarter and picked up right where he left off by attacking Jose Alvarado to get a pair of free throws. He finished with a team-high 22 points. Bogdanovic’s consistency on offense is something the Pistons can rely on. They just need another reliable scoring option to step up when he’s off the floor in order to take the next step as a team.
Hamidou Diallo: Diallo was a bright spot for the Pistons’ bench. He was active on the offensive and defensive ends, especially in the fourth quarter. He scored 10 of his 19 in the final quarter, leading the Pistons’ comeback efforts. His go-to move was a nifty finger roll, which he often finished with either hand. Diallo fouled out of the game with 22.5 seconds left and received a warm ovation from the crowd that remained in the stands until the final buzzer. He made 9-of-11 from the field and added seven rebounds. Diallo’s role as Detroit’s “energy guy” off the bench culminated with his fourth-quarter performance. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and his recent play is helping his case for why the Pistons should keep him a part of their future plans.
Cade Cunningham returns, kind of: Pistons star Cade Cunningham made his first public appearance since undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left leg. He walked out of the tunnel with Marvin Bagley III at the 6:29 mark of the first quarter. Cunningham didn’t appear to have any kind of brace on, but Marvin had a brace on his right hand, on which he recently had surgery to repair two fingers. Both players were interactive