If you had two games until the Detroit Pistons fanbase started questioning the direction of this franchise and Dwane Casey’s role in it ... well, you’re actually probably pretty familiar with Twitter.
Head coach Casey started Killian Hayes as usual, brought second-year forward Sekou Doumbouya off the bench, found some burn for reclamation project Josh Jackson and even found the first in-game action for rookie Saddiq Bey.
All seemed right with the world and the game was competitive. But then it seemed as if Hayes had a shorter leash than usual after some especially erratic play in his first-half minutes. Then Doumbouya was nowhere to be found.
When a struggling Derrick Rose came in for Svi Mykhailiuk with 4:22 left in the game and a five-point lead it was clear Casey was going with his veterans to try and secure the team its first victory.
It didn’t exactly work out. The team scored one basket (a Wright 3-pointer) during the rest of regulation and the game went into overtime. Then another overtime.
When it was all over, the rebuilding Pistons played Blake Griffin a team-high 44 minutes with vets Grant and Wright joining him in the over-40 club. Rose, meanwhile, had 33 minutes and a bunch of critical errors in his ledger.
It’s frustrating that Hayes didn’t see the floor later in regulation or at all in overtime, but coaches rarely make significant substations in overtime. Once Casey went with his vet-laden lineup to end the fourth, you would have to figure he’d ride the group until there was no more game left. Casey did and the Pistons happened to fall short. Every coach that loses an overtime game looks awful. They either didn’t make any changes and should of (obviously, because they lost) or they made changes and ruined the good thing the group that brought them into overtime had (obviously, because they lost).
After the game it was revealed that Doumbouya had rolled his ankle during his first-half minutes in addition to receiving a significant blow to the face from Andre Drummond. The young forward did come in late in the game when Detroit lost both its traditional centers (Jahlil Okafor to injury and Mason Plumlee fouling out), so it doesn’t appear to be a significant injury, but it helps explain the lack of minutes later in the game.
That brings us back to Hayes. He was not good, which is not unexpected. He seemed to especially struggle on defense and decision-making to begin the game. He had tightened things up a bit to start the second half, but I’m not exactly shocked Casey turned to Wright and Rose more than usual tonight.
Casey wants to win, and as much as he wants to talk about playing rookies and having them learn and compete and blah blah blah, he saw a winnable game against a bad team, he knows as well as anyone there aren’t going to be that many winnable games on the schedule and he went for it.
Now, was it a wise move to put your fate in the hands of Derrick Rose who has struggled mightily throughout the preseason and the first two games of the year? Maybe not. But he’s earned a lot of trust in this league and from Casey in their short time together so again, I am not surprised he wanted to put the ball in Rose’s hands and let fate decide.
It turns out fate can be cruel.
Another source of complaints was that 19-year-old rookie Isaiah Stewart did not replace Plumlee at center when he fouled out. The fact that Stewart is not yet in the rotation is zero percent surprising so far, and expecting a player who has logged zero minutes that count in the NBA to come into crunchtime to close out a game. Again, not surprised Casey didn’t go there. Instead, he went with Doumbouya at power forward and Griffin at center.
As Killian struggles early in this first season it’s going to be incumbent on Derrick Rose to put it together and be the offensive engine of the team or for Casey to see when Rose doesn’t have it and make alternative plans centered around one or both of Hayes and Wright.
“I’ll take Derrick Rose driving to the basket, I don’t think he’s going to turn it over,” Casey said following the game. The problem is Rose did turn it over. Two critical turnovers in crunch time and six turnovers overall.
If Rose was even 60% of how effective he was last year (when he was good, not great) the Pistons probably win this game in regulation and everyone is excited about Jerami Grant doing things on both ends, Blake hitting a bunch of 3s and Bey seeing his first minutes.
That didn’t happen. Rose struggled mightily and Hayes isn’t in a position to bail out the team when Rose struggles. In the end, it’s a loss and one that magnifies everything that seemingly went wrong courtesy of the two overtimes stretching out the misery.
They all count the same, though. The team will keep playing, keep losing plenty, win occasionally, and by the end of the year Hayes will have racked up plenty of minutes and likely earned the kind of trust that would have seen him get the chance to close out a game like tonight’s.
Bey will continue to worm his way into wing minutes, Jackson is going to continue to amaze and flummox and by the end of the season, Stewart might even supplant Okafor as the first big off the bench. It’s a long season fans, and it’s a marathon of “competing” and “building a culture,” not a sprint.