Greg Kelser said what we all were thinking.
“Pistons just don’t have the life right now,” the Pistons broadcaster said of Detroit’s play after Dwane Casey called a timeout with just over nine minutes left in the second quarter. At that point, the Pistons were down 40-26.
Detroit played host to a Portland team down several rotation players including Damian Lillard, Jusef Nurkic, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart and Eric Bledsoe, among others.
Still, the shorthanded Trail Blazers managed to stifle the Pistons handily for much of this game.
The Pistons that started this one looked strangely reminiscent of the pre-2022 Pistons. I’d almost forgotten what that team looked like after the recent stretch of inspiring play. Unfortunately, we all were reminded of that tonight pretty quickly.
Detroit was down a few key rotation pieces as well with Jerami Grant, Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk all sitting for various purposes. Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo remained out with their respective injuries.
The game opened with textbook ugly basketball from both “tanking” squads, but Detroit was noticeably more disjointed. Sloppy sets, slow rotations, bad fouls – you name it. The Pistons went the final five and a half minutes of the opening period without a field goal.
Yeah… it was bad.
The Pistons did manage to find some life as the second quarter went on, led by an impressive scoring streak from none other than Cade Cunningham. In the first half, he tallied 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting with three assists and two steals. Still, the Pistons went into the half trailing the Blazers by 15.
Detroit offered some glimpses of hope in the third period — at one point, the Pistons starters went on a 17-to-4 run to cut the deficit to 10 points. The group lost the handle a bit after that, but the Pistons bench was able to go on a mini-run before the quarter ended, highlighted by back-to-back threes from Saben Lee and Jamorko Pickett. The team was down just 8 heading into the final period of play.
Then in the fourth, things got tight.
Detroit opened the last quarter with a bench lineup plus Killian Hayes, and the group answered the call. Hayes and Lee came out aggressively, both contributing big buckets early in the fourth. The Trail Blazers called a timeout with nine minutes left after Luka Garza hit a baby hook to bring the Pistons down just one point.
Now, this looked like the team Pistons fans had become accustomed to over the recent stretch of the season.
Detroit continued to fight as the starters gradually trickled back in. Hayes tied the game at 101 with a steal and a fast-break flush. Saddiq Bey tied the game at 105 with a three shortly after coming off the bench. The Pistons took their first lead since early in the first quarter on a Garza free throw with just over five minutes left.
Portland regained a four-point lead after Justice Winslow scored a fastbreak layup off a Cunningham turnover with two minutes left. With just over a minute left, Cunningham made up for the turnover with a steal and lob to Marvin Bagley, bringing the score to 114-112. A tough layup by Portland’s Brandon Williams regained that four-point lead with less than a minute to go.
To Detroit’s dismay, this would prove too much for the Pistons to overcome. An offensive foul by Isaiah Stewart gave the Trail Blazers back possession, which was enough for Portland to effectively run the clock out. When the dust settled, the Pistons found themselves on the losing end of this one, by a score of 119-115.
Cade and Saddiq led Detroit in scoring with 25 apiece. Cunningham went 10-of-17 from the floor with seven assists and four steals, but it must be mentioned he had nine turnovers as well. Bey shot 6-of-17 from the floor and chipped in six rebounds to boot.
Among other Pistons standouts were Bagley and Stewart, who combined for 23 points and 22 rebounds between the pair of them. Marvin accounted for 15 of those points on 6-9 shooting.
Garza and Lee played admirably off the bench, as the former tallied 11 points while the latter had nine. Isaiah Livers was a bit cold in this one, shooting just 1-for-7 from three. Pickett had his moments, but he didn’t shoot particularly well and was getting eaten alive by the opposition’s drives on defense.
Finally, Killian Hayes should be commended for his efforts in this one. After the first half, the young point guard had 0 points on 0-of-6 from the field and was noticeably struggling with his confidence after missing a couple games with a head contusion. He wound up tallying all 12 of his points in the second half on 4-of-5 shooting after the break and pitched in six assists, four rebounds and two stocks. He made his impact felt when it mattered in the second half and managed to make a decent game out of what looked to be a long night for him early in this one.
For the Trail Blazers, Williams led all starters with 23 points, while all five starters finished with double-digits in the scoring column. Portland was helped tremendously by Ben McLemore, who contributed 21 points off the bench.
As a whole, the Pistons can take pride in the fact they didn’t bow out of this one, coming back from a 20-plus point deficit to give the home fans a competitive contest after all. Although, being down 20 points to Portland squad without basically all of its best players is not an ideal spot to be in. Regardless, the post-ASB Pistons refuse to be blown out across a full contest.
And hey, this loss isn’t so bad for those prioritizing lottery odds.
The 19-53 Pistons will be back home on Wednesday to host Trae Young and the 35-36 Atlanta Hawks.