It was never pretty, but the Detroit Pistons outlasted the Orlando Magic to snap a two-game skid and come away with a 97-92 victory Saturday night in Little Caesars Arena. You could certainly tell two of the worst teams were playing against each other as the best you could say for either squad is that they were sometimes able to string together spasms of competence in between late rotations and clanging shots against the rim.
The 92 points allowed was the third-lowest total allowed by the Pistons this season and was some welcome relief after allowing 140 and 118 points in the previous two games, respectively.
The Pistons won thanks to some strong play from Hamidou Diallo and Detroit’s bench, which contributed 51 points including 16 from Trey Lyles. The backup big man was 7-of-10 from the floor, added 13 rebounds and was cooking Mo Wagner so bad that after one turnaround jumper he just shook his head as if to say, “you can’t guard me.”
The bench points were needed because it was an off night for Detroit’s starting backcourt offensively. Killian Hayes was largely a non-factor, scoring five points on 2-of-4 shooting, and Cade Cunningham’s shot was off all night and looked it. He was 3-of-14 and none of his misses was of the tough-luck variety.
As is Cunningham’s way, he found plenty of ways to impact the game outside of his jump shot, including getting to the line eight times, playing solid help defense and finding, and sometimes creating, open lanes to deliver teammates easy shot opportunities. He finished with just five assists, but he was delivering the ball into the pocket of his teammates all night. They just couldn’t always finish.
That includes the aforementioned Diallo who had one of the best looks all season to put the game away for Detroit with 57 seconds remaining and the Pistons up 93-90. Cunningham drove the lane and Diallo cut from the corner 3 into a wide-open alley-oop opportunity. Cade found him and delivered a beautiful lob that Diallo caught one-handed and clanked against the rim and landed in Orlando’s hand with a chance to tie.
Your best finisher clanging the easiest look at a dunk he could ask for is the kind of development that makes you wonder if the basketball gods are not on your side. But after Terrence Ross sunk two free-throws to cut the Detroit lead to one, Diallo was able to make amends as Detroit ran a beautiful set out of a timeout to get Cunningham running downhill and he again found the cutting Diallo who this time caught the ball with two hands and slammed it home.
The Magic were led by a season-high 28 points from Gary Harris who hit 6 threes. Orlando also got 19 points from Cole Anthony, but he needed 18 shots to get there. A rookie opening up some eyes, former Michigan Wolverine Franz Wagner was limited to nine points and three rebounds in 27 minutes.
Whether you were rooting for the Pistons to actually beat the league’s worst team depends on just how committed you are to the tanking philosophy. I would say, there is plenty of time to lose plenty of games, and after such a meager showing in the last two contests, it was nice to see Detroit come away with the W.