It feels like the Detroit Pistons are learning how to win.
They’re learning how to close games. They’re seeing how good teams play. They’re learning how bad teams play. They’re learning on the fly. Detroit has had its fair share of close games in recent weeks — most recently, their victory in Toronto on Thursday — and Friday’s home game against the Indiana Pacers was much the same.
This time, however, they found a way to win an ugly one.
Playing their fifth game in seven nights, the Pistons looked a step slow all night. The Pacers, who trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half, overcame a hot Pistons start to hold the lead for much of the fourth.
But... the Pistons found a way.
Cade Cunningham scored or assisted on all three of the Pistons baskets in the final three minutes as they overcame a late six-point lead to win 111-106.
For 45 minutes, it felt like Detroit was hanging on by a thread.
Despite getting out to a hot start, hitting 8 of their first 9 triples, the Pistons were never able to pull away or really build a comfortable lead on Indiana. The Pacers have a Jekyll and Hyde tendency — they’re either giant killers or a G League team.
We saw both sides of that coin tonight.
But as fatigue set in, the Pistons let the lead slip. Despite scoring a season-high 39 points in the first quarter — including 14 from Saddiq Bey — Detroit let Indiana crawl back. The Pacers cut the lead from 59-45 to 65-62 at the half.
Indiana crushed it on the boards, specifically pogo-stick center Isaiah Jackson who had seven offensive rebounds. Isaiah Stewart and Marvin Bagley III were the only Pistons who seemed to have much energy on the boards, and that was a big reason for Indiana’s success.
Stew battled foul trouble, but finished with 8 points and 13 rebounds. His defense on the perimeter as the Pacers tried time after time to attack him on switches, was impressive.
Bagley was on his game tonight. Indiana has a lot of size, but it’s raw size. Bagley flashed his polished post game all night and kept the Pistons afloat in the third quarter. He finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds, one of three players to reach double-digit scoring for Detroit.
But, in the end, it was Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey closing things out. Cunningham has played 32 or more minutes in six of his last seven games, and it showed at times on some shots late in the third quarter.
However, the beauty of his game is that he makes things happen without scoring.
He nailed a triple off a pass from Jerami Grant with 2:36 to go to put the Pistons up 105-102 before finding Bey for a three to tie it a minute later. His layup with 1:09 to go gave the Pistons the lead for good.
He finished with 20 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists.
It’s the second time in as many nights that he made game-winning plays in the final minutes. Cade is asked to do a lot on a nightly basis, and he struggles with it at times, but when it’s winning time, he rarely falters. That’s great to see.
Bey, too, has found a knack for fourth quarter heroics. His confidence is at an all-time high and some of these looks he’s taking — whether he makes them or misses them — feel automatic because of that swagger.
Saddiq scoring 25 points like he did tonight feels like it’s becoming normal, which is pretty wild considering where he started the season.
What did y’all think? Let us know in the comments.