Detroit — Marvin Bagley delivered his most impressive game this season at a time when the Pistons needed it most.
Starting center Jalen Duren could only watch Saturday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors from the back of the Pistons’ bench due to bilateral ankle injuries. Isaiah Stewart was gimpy throughout the game due to hip soreness and did not return after checking out in the third quarter. Without “The Dawg Pound,” the self-proclaimed nickname for Detroit’s starting big men, that left Bagley and James Wiseman as the only available bigs.
Bagley returned to the lineup on Saturday for the first time since Jan. 2 against the Portland Trail Blazers, a game in which he broke the fourth and fifth metacarpals in his right hand.
After missing 20 games, the expectation level would be low and rust was likely to play a factor. However, Bagley played 27 minutes off the bench and produced a season-high 21 points with a career-high 18 rebounds, despite the Pistons’ 95-91 loss to the Raptors. The opportunity was there for Bagley to make the most of his time on the floor, which was amplified due to Wiseman’s foul trouble. While he was sidelined, Bagley said he visualized areas where he could make an impact.
“I was trying to get in the right spots,” Bagley said. “I started to see small things that I could do when I came back, and today I tried to apply it. And it worked. Now, I just gotta keep continuing to grow and keep continuing to expand on that and keep getting better.”
Bagley had 13 points and 10 rebounds in his first 10 minutes of action, which was the fastest double-double of his career and his sixth overall this season. He joined Wiseman (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Jaden Ivey (10 points, 10 assists) as the three Pistons to record a double-double.
Of Bagley’s 18 rebounds, 11 of them (career-high) were on the offensive glass, contributing to Detroit’s season-high 62 rebounds.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey said during his post-game press conference that Bagley’s rebounding was impressive considering the fact that the medical staff advised to play him in short stints.
“His conditioning was better than I expected and for him to come in and do the rebounding job he did, that was impressive,” Casey said. “Eighteen rebounds and 21 points? That’s big time for him. They’re going to have to continue to do it if Stewart’s out for a period of time. Loved the way Marvin came back and he showed who he was today.”
Bagley finished 9-of-19 from the field and most of his field goals were from the inside. However, his most pivotal shot was a 3-point attempt with 4.1 seconds remaining as he was fouled by Scottie Barnes. However, the officials didn’t consider the play a shooting foul, and Bagley shot two free throws since Toronto was in the penalty. The ruling left Casey in disbelief.
“I have no clue and that boggles my mind,” Casey said when asked about the official’s explanation. “With four seconds to go, what else are you gonna do? There was no explanation, but anyway, (the official) didn’t give him the 3-point shot. We needed a 3. He was going in his shooting motion and I don’t know what the conversation was afterwards but clearly, I felt like he was in a shooting motion to tie the game with four seconds to go.”
Bagley briefly addressed the play in the locker room after the game, but didn’t want to criticize the officials in fear of getting fined.
“I don’t really got no comment on it. I’m gonna save my money,” Bagley said. “I felt like I was shooting it, but they felt otherwise and it is what it is.”
Thursday’s media session with Bagley was his first since the Pistons’ acquisition of Wiseman, which gives the Pistons four active big men (Nerlens Noel is currently not with the team). Bagley was excited about playing alongside Wiseman once Duren and Stewart are healthy due to the lineup’s size advantages.
“I think having two bigs in the starting lineup and then come off the bench, that’s gonna be huge for us and it gave us an advantage,” Bagley said. “I’m excited about it and I’m happy to have him on the team.
“I feel like it won’t take long to figure out how to play with James. I played with another big before in college with (Orlando Magic forward) Wendell Carter Jr. A lot of high-low action. A lot of things we picked up from each other’s game. I think it’s about talking to each other and I think it’ll come naturally for us.”
Now that Bagley is back in the rotation, he and Wiseman should be able to keep the Pistons afloat in the frontcourt while Duren and Stewart recover from their injuries. And with 21 games left in the regular season, it’s Bagley’s chance to prove that he’s capable of delivering quality performances as he displayed against the Raptors.