Detroit Pistons’ Jaden Ivey accountable for Chris Webber-like timeout: ‘I lost the game’

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons trailed by 21 points with just over a minute left in the third quarter Wednesday night. But in the final seconds of the game, they appeared to have the Chicago Bulls pinned.

A 29-8 run energized the Little Caesars Arena crowd and changed the tenor of the game, and gave the reeling Pistons a chance at a comeback win. With 9.7 seconds left and his team facing a 114-112 deficit, rookie guard Jaden Ivey was responsible for inbounding the ball. As his teammates jostled into position trying to spring open, he motioned for a timeout.

The decision effectively ended the game, and the story of the night began. The Pistons had no timeouts remaining. Coach Dwane Casey’s anguished reaction on the sideline, and Ivey’s realization as he put his hands on his head, said it all. It was an automatic turnover and technical foul, and Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan hit the ensuing free throws to clinch a 117-115 win for Chicago, the sinking Pistons’ sixth consecutive loss.

In one moment, the Pistons went from a potential game-winning shot to praying for a trio of missed free throws. The Bulls were rescued from a collapse in Detroit, thanks to a mistake that recalled Chris Webber’s infamous timeout that Michigan didn’t have in the 1993 NCAA national championship game. Wednesday, ironically, was Webber’s 50th birthday.

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Casey and Bojan Bogdanovic, who hit eight 3-pointers and scored 34 points, were in unison as they each took the podium after the result, insisting it wasn’t Ivey’s fault. The Pistons trailed by 15 points in the first quarter and allowed Chicago to shoot 56% in the first half. If anything, the game was lost in the opening period, they said.

But Ivey, who walked off the floor with a towel over his head after the final buzzer as his teammates consoled him, disagrees.

“I feel like I could’ve did a better job asking how many timeouts we had,” he said in the locker room after the game, his voice low but steady. “Just that possession in the game is key. We had an opportunity to tie it or win the game. It’s tough. I definitely put it on my shoulders. We had an opportunity to win.

“When you do a stupid, silly mistake like that it hurts,” he continued. “It hurts my team and it just hurts, it’s just the way it is.”

Ivey was angry at himself. He took his mental lapse hard. There was no miscommunication, he simply messed up.

It was an otherwise another solid game for the rookie, who has been on a tear since 2023 began, and scored 18 points on just nine shots. But the faux timeout quickly made its rounds on social media, and will likely be a topic on sports talk shows and radio. Deserved or not, it was the type of mistake not easily forgotten.

Luckily for Ivey, the Pistons are far from playoff contention. At 15-48, they are second-worst in the NBA. The loss won’t have any impact on how this season will be viewed in a year, or even in two months. Unlike Webber, it won’t cost the Pistons a shot at a title.

After the mistake came accountability, and now an opportunity for growth. Ivey knows he messed up, but Wednesday’s result doesn’t change the fact he has given the Pistons plenty of reasons to be excited for his future. He has been one of the NBA’s best rookies, and January and February were his strongest months of play.

He owned up to it, and now he can make up for it and move past it.

“He’ll learn from it, grow from it,” Casey said. “He did not lose that game on that one play.”

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‘I lost the game’

In the moments after the mistaken timeout, the Pistons quickly shifted from shock to acceptance. Cory Joseph walked up to Ivey and gave him a supportive hug. Bogdanovic hunched over next to Ivey as LaVine took the technical free throw and gave words of encouragement as Ivey nodded, solemnly.

After the game, Casey acknowledged he and Ivey had a conversation earlier in the week about trusting him with more late-game responsibility.

“He panicked,” Casey said. “The game wasn’t won or lost on that one play. It was lost in the first quarter. The laissez-faire approach we had defensively, they got whatever they wanted. It’s similar to the Charlotte game (Monday) where we didn’t start turning it on until the second half. It’s such a mountain to climb in this league when you get behind as such and you have to scratch and claw.

“The margin for error becomes very small, but it didn’t come back to that one play. I know it’s going to seem like it and everybody’s going to say it, but it started way before that.”

The Pistons rushed to Ivey’s support because if there’s one thing everyone in the organization can agree on about the fifth overall pick, it’s that he cares. Ivey’s grandfather, James Hunter, played for the Lions from 1976-82. His father, Javin Hunter, was born in Detroit and attended Detroit Country Day. And his mother, Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Niele Ivey, formerly played for the Detroit Shock.

Ivey wears his emotions, and his pride for Detroit, on his sleeve. He cried on draft night, because he wanted to be a Piston and got his wish. He had to compose himself during his introductory news conference at Rouge Park last summer, when Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem presented him jerseys from his parents and grandfather while his parents were at his side.

He has been living out his dream this season, and Wednesday was preceded by the strongest stretch of basketball in his young career. In 2023, he’s averaging 15.8 points and 5.5 assists while shooting 43.7% overall and 37.4% from 3 in 23 games.

He hit a late game-tying 3-pointer against the Orlando Magic last Thursday, in a game he scored 25 points and knocked down five 3s. He has made significant strides as a passer and decision-maker, too, quelling concerns he will never be a true point guard in the NBA.

Ivey appreciates the support he received from the team after the game, but it doesn’t soften the blow of his mistake.

“It means a lot,” Ivey said. “I really love this team. Like I said before, every time I go out there I just want to represent the city of Detroit and the Pistons organization well. It’s just a tough one. You lose the game for your team, basically. I lost the game for my team. That’s the way I look at it. I also look at it as a learning opportunity for me to not make that mistake again. Just keep working every single day to get better and practice good habits.”

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Missed opportunities

The Pistons played to lose for most of the game. LaVine, who led all scorers with 41 points, started off hot and hit his first five shots to help the Bulls build an early 29-14 lead midway through the first quarter. Bogdanovic answered back, hitting three 3-pointers in the final three minutes of the period to lead a 22-9 run that cut the deficit to 38-36 at the end of the quarter.

The Bulls struck back, expanding their lead to 15 at halftime and 21 shortly before the end of the third quarter. Chicago shot 56.5% through three quarters, and scored 18 points off 14 Pistons turnovers.

“A lot of media is going to look at that last play, where we called the timeout,” Bogdanovic said. “I think we lost the game in the first quarter. We started pretty bad without any energy, and then we were trying to fight back but against that team and those players, it’s tough. It’s great that we fought back into the game, but I think that our defense gotta be better in the first half to win the game.”

Despite controlling the first three quarters, the Bulls (29-34) went cold to end the game as the Pistons turned up their defensive activity. Chicago shot 2-for-16 in the final period, and the Pistons used a 29-8 run to tie the game at 108 with three minutes remaining.

With 1:50 on the clock, Ivey found Hamidou Diallo cutting. The layup tied the game at 112 before LaVine broke the tie with 48 seconds left with a pair of free throws. Ivey pins the blame on himself, but the Pistons did have opportunities before that fateful timeout. Not to mention, the vast hole they had to dig themselves out of.

“Everyone told him that it wasn’t that play,” Casey said. “Learn from it. He’s going to be in a lot of those situations throughout his career. Understand that five seconds is a long time to get it in.”

But the bottom line for Ivey is the Pistons lost. He wore his shame after the game. The team has a well-timed off day on Thursday and will return to practice Friday. They play at Cleveland on Saturday.

The end result, in many respects, was a collective effort. But Wednesday night, Ivey was left to grapple with the cold reality of his gaffe, and a motive to be better.

“We could talk about a lot of mistakes that we made throughout the game,” Ivey said. “We made a lot of mistakes, but we came back, we fought back and we gave ourselves another opportunity to win the game. I applaud Bogey and coach for saying that, but I take it on myself to put the team in a better position.”

Catch our podcast “The Pistons Pulse” every Tuesday morning at 5 and on demand on freep.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. This week’s episode, embedded in the story above, features a deep dive into the upcoming NBA draft. See all of our podcasts and daily voice briefings at freep.com/podcasts.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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