Cade Cunningham is growing up before our eyes. The question is no longer whether he was a worth pick at No. 1 overall. It isn’t even whether Cunningham might be destined for stardom. The question is whether superstardom is on the horizon.
If Cunningham puts together a few more halves like his second-half showing against the Cleveland Cavaliers that saw Cade notch his second career triple-double, the answer will be an unequivocal yes.
The Pistons wouldn’t let the extreme length of the Cavs’ defense, a rough start to the game or Darius Garland’s hot shooting stop them in a thrilling 115-105 comeback win at a raucous Little Caesars Arena on Sunday.
The thing is, it could have ended early, and it could have ended ugly. Detroit couldn’t hit anything and the Cavaliers used their length to create easy looks at the rim and kickout opportunities to shooters and ran up a quick 15-0 lead on the Pistons.
Dwane Casey had called two timeouts before his team had even scored a point. But his players didn’t quit, and the bench gave Detroit the boost it needed to weather the storm and get back in the game.
Led by Frank Jackson and Trey Lyles, the Pistons got 21 points from the reserves to just 3 for the starters to trail 29-24 after the first quarter. The Pistons were able to tread water in the second quarter, but Cunningham couldn’t anything to go down.
His jump shot wasn’t falling and he couldn’t get into the lane with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen patrolling the paint.
On the other end, the Cavs were eager to exploit switches and mismatches with those big men sometimes to the team’s detriment. A lot of missed hook shots and points lost on the free-throw line kept Detroit in it. Still, Mobley was mighty impressive. He was handling in the high post and beyond the elbow and dropping soft floaters into the basket.
If you’re wondering why Mobley is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year, you saw it in the first half. Cunningham struggled shooting 0-of-10 from the floor for zero points in the first half.
If you were curious whether Cunningham could supplant Mobley for Rookie of the Year, you saw it in the second half. Cade put the early-game struggles behind him and together with Saddiq Bey put on a show in the third quarter. The two combined for 28 of Detroit’s 35 points in the third quarter.
The Cavs were able to keep a modest 3- to 9-point cushion throughout most of the game. Then with 8:34 left in the game and the Cavs up nine, it was Cade Cunningham’s time to take over the game.
Cade hit a shot and made a key assist as the Pistons put some defensive pressure on Cleveland eventually leading to an Isaiah Stewart layup off a beautiful feed from Killian Hayes to give Detroit its first lead 99-98 with 5:19 remaining.
The Pistons ended the game on a 26-7 run powered by Cunningham’s scoring, passing, rebounding and defense. Cunningham ended the night with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. This included a late rebound off a missed Stewart free throw that eventually made it back to Cade for a top-of-the-key 3-pointer and a critical five-point lead. It also included the unofficial dagger, another deep 3 to put the Pistons up nine with 90 seconds left and the game out of reach.
Cunningham just has a sense for the moment, and he’s not afraid to step up and deliver when it arrives. Not that Cade was the only reason Detroit won.
Bey had a game-high 31 points including several aggressive looks and key passes in crunch time. Isaiah Stewart notched a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds with 10 of those points coming in the fourth quarter.
Mobley finished with 18 points and nine rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting. Garland led Cleveland with 24 points including five 3-pointers.
The Pistons got 19 points from Frank Jackson and 15 from Trey Lyles. Cuningham and Hayes combined for 16 assists and just two turnvovers.