Nine games into the year, Cade Cunningham’s reputation as a clutch player is already playing out in real time.
The Detroit Pistons rookie entered the game in the fourth quarter with Detroit down two and having blown a large lead. But the rookie proved calm beyond his years.
Cold off the bench, he patiently knocked down an under control turnaround to tie the game. He followed that up with a drive and kick to a wide open Cory Joseph to take the lead. He then extended that lead with a drive and double clutch finish and an assist for a Frank Jackson three to go up five.
The Pistons never looked back.
The Indiana Pacers stayed within six with a minute to go, but Cunningham finished them off by drawing a double team and darting a pass to Isaiah Stewart for an eventual layup. That ended things for all intents and purposes with Detroit finishing off a 97-89 victory.
It looked like it might be much easier in the first half.
The Pistons built a 8-point halftime lead on the back of their defense, limiting Indiana to just 41. Detroit’s young backcourt suffocated Indiana’s ball handlers and the entire team rotated and helped well, rendering Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis extremely effective in the first two quarters.
The third quarter was a bit more grim from a Detroit perspective. Sabonis found a rhythm and far too many Pistons possessions ended in Jerami Grant isolations. Grant continues to slow the offense down to a halt far too often. Though he did get to the line to salvage a poor shooting night.
When the offense flowed, it predictably looked much better. Frank Jackson scored 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from deep and was the recipient of a lot of good ball movement while waiting in the corner. Open looks were created for many others but the Pistons’ 3-point efficiency woes continued to the tune of 28% shooting.
If not for Frank Jackson, that number would be a lot uglier. Shots are falling for him, but he just looks far more comfortable than he has to begin the season.
Also looking comfortable was much-maligned backup point guard Cory Joseph. Joseph was excellent, ending with 18 points on 11 shots and a team-best +11 in 31 minutes. His strong play was necessary with Killian Hayes going to the bench early in the third quarter with four fouls.
The other standout from the bench was Hamidou Diallo who took Josh Jackson’s position in the rotation at least for a night. He only had 2 points, 2 rebounds, and a block. But, he was active, played solid defense, and served as a nice connector on both ends of the floor.
Whether Diallo will stay in the rotation remains to be seen, but Detroit seemed to find a nice rhythm tonight and it’s probably worth seeing if it continues to work in the short term.
What appears more clear is that the Pistons have a go-to player when they do keep games close. And he’s only 20 years old.
- Killian Hayes’ defense is for real. He added a nice, patient floater with the shot clock waning too. If the offense gets to even a respectable level, he’ll be a valuable piece even if it’s different than what fans expected.
- Saddiq Bey found a nice balance between patience and aggression to close the third quarter. As that develops, the shooting will work itself out.
- Can we please get Trey Lyles to stop dribbling the basketball?