Coming off one of their worst losses of the season, the Pistons went on a one-game roadtrip to face the ailing Dallas Mavericks.
Or, so they thought.
In what has become a routine for opposing teams, the Mavericks returned their franchise player from injury against Detroit, which has the second-worst record in the NBA. That player went by the name of Luka Doncic, and there wasn’t much the Pistons could do to contain him.
Originally questionable for Monday’s game due to a left ankle injury, Doncic exploded for 53 points to lead the Mavericks to a 111-105 victory over the Pistons, who dropped to 13-39.
The Pistons led by as many as 11 in the game, but entered the fourth quarter with just a one-point lead. Without Doncic on the floor, the Mavs successfully took the lead thanks to former Pistons guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the first six minutes of the quarter.
Detroit trailed by five with less than three minutes remaining when Bojan Bogdanovic sank a difficult fadeaway jumper as the shot clock expired to bring the Pistons within three. He followed that up with a stepback triple to bring the Pistons with two points. However, Doncic put the Pistons to bed with a stepback jumper of his own, which was helped by a friendly bounce from the rim.
Detroit failed to execute on their final couple of possessions, leading to another tough loss.
Here are a few observations from Monday’s loss:
Doncic dominates: After a series of fakes, Doncic connected on a turnaround fadeaway for his first basket of the game, a precursor to more an onslaught of buckets from the newly-named All-Star starter. He drained a stepback 3-pointer to complete a 10-0 Mavericks run in the first three minutes of the game. The scoring binge caused Pistons coach Dwane Casey to call a timeout. Doncic scored 11 points in the first four minutes of action and 24 points in the first quarter, despite picking up two fouls. He had an efficient night from the field, making 15-of-22 field goals, which included 5-of-11 from 3-point range. Doncic scored his 50th point after making a stepback 15-footer over Bogdanovic late in the game.
“We gotta be mentally sharp. We gotta be detailed,” Isaiah Livers told Bally Sports’ Johnny Kane during halftime. “We gotta play without our hands, obviously. They’re calling a tight game, so let’s make sure we guard without our hands and force (Doncic) which way we want him to go.”
Foul trouble: Not only did the Pistons fail to overcome Doncic’s offensive firepower, but they were plagued by foul trouble. Jaden Ivey fouled out at the 6:30 mark of the fourth quarter after 21 minutes of action. Killian Hayes was disqualified after picking up his sixth foul with 2:38 left in the game. Without their two point guards late in the game, Burks was moved to the point guard position due to his exceptional ball-handling ability. Isaiah Livers was also limited by foul trouble with four personal fouls, due to his aggressive nature on the defensive end. Livers can afford to take those fouls, however, Ivey and Hayes aren’t in a position to do that, especially while veteran guard Cory Joseph is out due to a back injury.
Rookie connection: Ivey and Jalen Duren are becoming quite the one-two punch as of late. Since Ivey’s transition to the point guard spot, he’s been more intentional about finding his fellow rookie teammate inside for easy baskets. The two hooked up for a couple of easy baskets in the first quarter of Monday’s game, which included a no-look pass from Ivey to Duren in transition. The Pistons will continue to prioritize the development of their two rookies for the remainder of the season, and the budding chemistry between the two appears to be promising for the franchise.
Late game execution: Without Cade Cunningham, it’s been hard for the Pistons to execute late in games. Without a point guard on the floor, it was even harder on Monday. The Pistons trailed by four points with 38 seconds left when Bogdanovic heaved up a corner 3-pointer after he thought he was fouled. The Pistons got the ball back one play later, trailing by four but Bogdanovic turned the ball over after the Mavs double-teamed him. Dallas knew the ball was going to the veteran forward, and wanted to make someone else beat them, a common theme for this season.