Strong performances from several young players weren’t enough to help the Detroit Pistons — who entered Saturday with a lengthy injury report — snap the NBA’s longest losing streak.
The Pistons fell to the Indiana Pacers at Little Caesars Arena, 121-115, for their 11th consecutive defeat. Indiana used a 32-16 run in the second quarter to build a 16-point lead, but the Pistons rallied back with a 20-8 run in the third quarter to tie the game at 90. Killian Hayes dished nine of his 13 assists in the third period, and Isaiah Livers and Rodney McGruder combined for 18 points while knocking down four of five 3-pointers.
But they went cold in the final period, knocking down just one of 10 3-point attempts while the Pacers shot 10-for-19 overall. Indiana also won the rebounding battle, 58-42, with an 18-12 advantage on the offensive glass, even though the Pistons went with a two-big starting lineup with Marvin Bagley III and James Wiseman.
Livers led the NBA-worst Pistons (15-53) with 18 points and three steals, but shot 7-for-20 overall and 3-for-10 from 3. Hayes had a double-double with 17 points and 13 assists (career-high) while also tallying six rebounds and three steals. Jalen Duren also had a double-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks, and Wiseman finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
NBA DRAFT BIG BOARD:How would top 7 prospects fit in this Pistons rebuild?
Cory Joseph provided 12 points and six assists, and McGruder and Eugene Omoruyi added 11 points each. It was another good night for Omoruyi, who reached double-figures for the second time in three games while on the tail end of a 10-day contract.
The Pistons were without Jaden Ivey, who entered health and safety protocols on Friday. Bagley exited the game in the third quarter with right ankle soreness. Isaiah Stewart (right hip soreness), Bojan Bogdanovic (bilateral Achilles tendinopathy), Alec Burks (left foot soreness) and Hamidou Diallo (right ankle sprain) also all missed the game.
Jalen Smith led the Pacers (31-37) with 20 points off the bench. Detroit native Isaiah Jackson and Andrew Nembhard each scored 19. Indiana was also without four of its best players in All-Star Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Bennedict Mathurin and T.J. McConnell.
With Ivey out, Hayes responds with aggression
Since the Pistons played in Paris in January, Hayes hadn’t quite been the same.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey has referenced the Pistons’ Jan. 19 overseas loss to the Bulls as a turning point for Hayes’ season twice in the last month. The third-year guard played the best basketball of his career in the two months before the game. Since then, he has averaged 7.9 points on 30.1% overall shooting and 23.1% shooting from 3 in his 16 games leading up to Saturday. With Ivey unavailable, Casey challenged Hayes to play more aggressively before the game.
Hayes answered the challenge, putting together a masterful third quarter — one of the best 12-minute stretches of his career. The Pistons trailed by 12 at halftime, but used a 20-8 run to tie the game at 77. He had nine of his 13 assists in the third quarter without turning the ball over, and scored or assisted Detroit’s first 11 field goals before Joseph assisted an Omoruyi layup with 45 seconds remaining in the period. Detroit finished the third shooting 12-for-21 overall.
It was a passing showcase for Hayes, who showed once again that he’s the best playmaker on the roster when he’s in a groove. He capped the quarter with two of his best passes of the night — a lofted lob over the top of Indiana’s defense to Wiseman for an easy layup, and a touchdown pass to Omoruyi in transition for another layup that gave the Pistons an 88-87 lead.
Hayes needed Saturday’s performance. Ivey could miss several games in health and safety protocols, and Hayes needs a strong run to close the season as he approaches extension-eligibility this offseason.
Duren provides energy, post scoring
Before the Pistons shut Duren down for eight games with bilateral ankle soreness, he appeared to have hit a rookie wall. After going off for 30 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks in a double-overtime win against the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 10, he combined for 10 points (on 4-for-13 shooting), 20 rebounds and zero blocks over his next three games.
His two-week rest helped him, as he put together his most energetic performance in a month on Saturday. Duren set the tone by nearly tallying a double-double in the first half with 14 points and nine rebounds. It was a complete offensive night, as he had his usual diet of dunks and cutting layups while also showing off his increased comfort with his back to the basket.
Duren came off of the bench for the second game in the row and checked in for Wiseman midway through the opening period. His first points of the night came shortly after, when posted up on the right block, spun left to free himself and finished underneath the basket with his right hand. He used his footwork again in the second quarter, spinning past his defender and using a half step to get open and make another layup.
But his most energetic play of the night was a more traditional Duren play, catching Indiana’s defense sleeping in transition and finishing a thunderous two-handed dunk off of a feed from Bagley. He also had his best night at the line, making a career-high eight free throws on a career-high 10 attempts. The Pistons missed Duren, and he could see his role expand if Bagley has to miss time.
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.
Next up: Pacers (again)
Matchup: Pistons (15-53) vs. Indiana (31-37).
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Monday; Little Caesars Arena, Detroit.
TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit; WXYT-FM (97.1).