There was a basketball game in Sacramento on Wednesday night.
It wasn’t fun. Until it was.
It was two teams — one trying like hell to make something of its season and another trying equally hard to land a top-three pick — playing one of the uglier high-scoring games you’ll see. It was high school basketball on an NBA court — easy baskets, no defense, lots of fouls.
It was the game we all regretted staying up to watch... that is, until we didn’t.
The real story wasn’t the wonky fashion in which this game unfolded: it was the superb return of Kelly Olynyk. The Pistons prized offseason signing finally returned after missing two months with a knee injury.
Outside of his jumper being a bit off, there wasn’t much rust on Olynyk, who anchored a surprisingly stout bench unit while finishing with 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists. I mean, this sequence right here is beautiful:
After falling behind 88-76 midway through the third, the Pistons got back into the game — taking it from very bad to somewhat entertaining on the watchability scale — thanks to Olynyk’s effort. They eventually took a 94-93 lead on an Olynyk tip in.
That set off a furious fourth where the teams exchanged big runs. After falling behind by 10 late, Detroit rallied once again behind Olynyk and Saddiq Bey. The latter, who finished with 30 points, tied the game at 131 on a driving and-one with 1:01 to go after Olynyk’s second triple of the night made it a one-possession game.
Cory Joseph capped a 13-1 run with a mid-range jumper to give them a 133-131 lead.
Sacramento isn’t a good team, though they are one who might think Jerami Grant will get them there, but they are a terrible matchup for Detroit. Even without Tyrese Haliburton — who was unable to duel with injured Killian Hayes in the battle of what-if — the Kings are fast and athletic... things the Pistons are not.
That means dudes like De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley had their way. Cory Joseph had no chance against Fox, who scored 27 points, while Bagley hit 7-of-9 shots for 17 points, abusing the Pistons with a mix of mid-range jumpers and buckets near the rim.
The craziest part of it all? The one Kings player the Pistons couldn’t stop was journeyman Terrance Davis. The shot-happy guard entered the game shooting 30% from downtown. He ended up hitting seven triples as he scored 35Xpoints.
If you tuned in for Cade Cunningham, you didn’t get much early.
The No. 1 overall pick battled foul trouble all night, sitting with three in the first half and four early in the third quarter. It felt like it should have been the nail in the coffin for the Pistons, but frankly, Cade wasn’t good tonight.
Before fouling out late in the fourth, Cunningham mustered just nine points and literally nothing else. It was one of the rare times where he looked uninterested — which happens in the middle of January on the second night of a back to back in Sacramento.
He finished with a listless 13 points, perhaps his least impactful game of the season.
Joseph quietly scored 19 points to go with nine assists in a spot start for the injured Hayes while the Rodney McGruder reunion tour continued as he scored 15 points off the bench after returning to Detroit in the aftermath of the Bol Bol trade.
Isaiah Stewart was the second-best center for Detroit tonight — finishing with a solid seven points, six rebounds and four assists — but he played freaking great defense on the Kings’ final two shots. He forced a Davis miss for the lead before making Fox’s last-gasp jumper very difficult.
I know he’s had a rough season, and there’s a lot that needs to happen for him to really be able to help this team in a big way going forward, but you’re reminded in moments like this, during a game we’ll all forget by March, of what guys flash in big moments.
The Pistons aren’t playing for wins, but it’s nice to notch one on this road trip. I’m sure we’ll be freaking out about it come tanking season in March, but for now, enjoy it. Detroit found a way to win an ugly game.
And, in the end, it was fun.