The extremely shorthanded Detroit Pistons managed to put up a truly admirable fight, at one point in the third quarter leading New York by 14 points, before eventually dropping a surprisingly fun Wednesday night battle to the Knicks, 94-85, at Little Caesers Arena.
The outlook for this one appeared bleak before the game was even underway. A quick glance at the starting lineups inspired little faith that Detroit could so much as remain competitive tonight. The Knicks didn’t have a full roster, but they had Julius Randle, Kemba Walker, RJ Barrett - a roster with legitimate NBA talent.
Surprisingly, it was none of those players who eventually lead the Knicks to a win. Alec Burks came off the bench to tie his career high of 34 points in a game, as New York outlasted a scare from a couple Pistons and the Motor City Cruise.
The Pistons’ COVID-struck roster featured three rotation players (three-and-a-half if you count Luka Garza), and the rest was filled by players who’ve spent the year with the Motor City Cruise.
The active/inactive list for the Pistons tonight pic.twitter.com/XyWtZ12NTv— Omari Sankofa II (@omarisankofa) December 29, 2021
Anyone holding out hope for a competitive game surely lost it after the Pistons went nearly five minutes without making a shot to start the contest. It appeared early on that we were in for another long night.
That is, until Saddiq Bey and Hamidou Diallo went absolutely bananas.
Down one of the three rotation players left standing (Frank Jackson left the second quarter with an injury, more on that later), Bey and Diallo shouldered the offensive load for the scoring-starved Pistons and inspired a welcome dose of confidence in a pair of players who have endured quite a rocky season to this point.
FINAL: Knicks 94, Motor City Pistons 85.— James Edwards III (@JLEdwardsIII) December 30, 2021
Saddiq Bey: 32 points and 9 rebounds on 50 percent shooting
Hamidou Diallo: 31 points and 13 rebounds on 68 percent shooting
The rest of the team was a combined, wait for it, 18.6 percent from the field.
It wasn’t long ago that fans were calling on Saddiq to be sent to the G-League, as he struggled with his shot and decisiveness for much of the season. While those murmurs have calmed since the arrival of “Headband Saddiq”, Bey has hardly gained the stamp of approval from the Pistons’ fan base as a whole this season.
Tonight, he stepped up big for a lineup that needed him in the worst way, setting a career high in points and looking mighty confident, forced into an alpha role. This is what Pistons’ fans wanted to see from Saddiq as the rest of the rotation remains out.
As good as Saddiq was, Hami might have been even better. Diallo put up a monster stat line in what was undoubtedly his best performance of the year. He continues to showcase his incredible athleticism and impressive scoring aggression driving to the basket.
Remember the time when Hami was the odd man out of the rotation? I think it’s safe to stay those days are far behind us.
Even with Bey and Diallo’s career performances, Luka Garza and the Motor City Cruise simply couldn’t hang with an actual NBA team the whole way. After Detroit grabbed a fairly sizeable advantage with a 25-4 run to begin the third quarter, New York was able to end the third on a positive note and hit the gas in the final period, ending the “G-League Pistons’” hope for an upset.
Speaking of the G-League, it wasn’t all bad for the young Pistons who’ve been called upon to contribute in the big leagues during the team’s time of need. Nobody besides Hami and Saddiq scored double-digit points, but there were some bright spots along the way.
Derrick Walton Jr. had a much better night in his second start with the Pistons after being held scoreless in his first. He added eight points and dished out nine assists, looking much more capable as an NBA player tonight.
Luka Garza shot poorly and looked suspect on defense yet again, but he stayed out of foul trouble and the Pistons sported a scoring differential of +15 while he was on the floor.
The rest of the guys looked fairly uninspiring. Cassius Stanley, Cheick Diallo, Trayvon Palmer and Deividas Sirvydis combined to shoot 2-15 from the field in their minutes, contributing just four points across the lot of them. Justin Robinson took on the role of backup point guard - he hit a triple and showed off some impressive handles, but appeared sloppy and inexperienced for the most part, as is to be expected.
As alluded to above, the biggest blow came in the second quarter when Frank Jackson left the game after what looked like, at best, an extremely ugly and painful looking rolled ankle. We don’t yet know the severity, but for his sake and the Pistons, we must hope it’s nothing too bad.
Overall, the makeshift Pistons roster showed some fight tonight, while Saddiq Bey and Hamidou Diallo gave fans something to be excited about. That’s about all we can hope for as long as the majority of the roster remains on the shelf.
If you didn’t watch this one, I’d recommend checking out the highlights. I didn’t include any in the writeup, but Saddiq and Hami made some truly impressive plays tonight.
The Pistons will be back home Saturday to play host to the San Antonio Spurs at 7:00 p.m. ET.