What started as one of the most bizarre and frustrating games of the Detroit Pistons’ bizarre and frustrating season ended as one of the more normal games of the season. Monty Williams changed up the starting lineup, played guys who hadn’t seen the floor in several games and tried a bit of everything, but ultimately, the Pistons fell to the New York Knicks 118-112.
The game began with the surprise addition of Isaiah Livers and Killian Hayes into the starting lineup. Killian was inserted so that Cade Cuningham could play more off the ball, and Livers was inserted to create more space in place of rookie Ausar Thompson.
The moves seemed to work. But the weirdness didn’t end there. The first players off the bench were rookie Marcus Sasser, Kevin Knox, and Marvin Bagley. Sasser hadn’t been the first guard off the bench in weeks, Bagley was recently a DNP-CD, and Knox hadn’t played in Detroit’s previous three games.
Jaden Ivey, who was recently starting alongside Cunningham, didn’t see the floor until the beginning of the second quarter.
The moves might have had fans scratching their heads, but in the case of Detroit’s guard play, it seemingly couldn’t have worked much better. Cunningham and Hayes might have delivered their two strongest games of the season. Hayes was 10-of-13 for 23 points. Cunningham scored 31 on just 20 shots and added eight assists.
Of course, this being the Pistons, there was some of the typical struggles. Cunningham had seven turnovers and Detroit as a team had 20. Some of those were of the patented careless variety, but a large chunk of them were between players who hadn’t shared the floor much together and were not on the same page on where they expected the other to be.
Sasser had his best game since his hot start to the season. He was playing in rhythm and was able to create space for himself on the perimeter. He scored 17 points, including going 5-of-7 from three.
Another common problem the Pistons couldn’t quite solve was guarding a team’s most dangerous perimeter player. Jalen Brunson had 42 points, seven 3-pointers and got to the line 10 times. He was feasting on deep catch-and-shoot options, and the Knicks were giving him ideal matchups in the pick-and-roll as Detroit was determined to switch everything. It did not work.
Thanks to Detroit’s strong play from its guards, the Pistons were able to hang around and even take the lead into the fourth quarter. An Ausar Thompson corner 3, his first make in his previous 11 attempts, put Detroit up 93-91 with 9:45 remaining in the game.
Whereas the Knicks knew exactly how they wanted to respond — feed Brunson and allow him to create a shot or kick out to an open perimeter player — Detroit still doesn’t know how to win when the pressure gets cranked up a few notches.
Hayes hit another opportune 3-pointer to bring Detroit within three 106-103 with five minutes to play. but Donte DiVincenco responded with his second consecutive 3-pointer, and Detroit wouldn’t hit another basket until a Cade layup when the Pistons were down nine with just over 90 seconds remaining and the game largely decided.
I wouldn’t say it was an encouraging game as it featured way too many turnovers, way too little defense, and a lack of involvement from Ivey when the team was desperate for a ball handler off the bench. But it was nice to experience a nice, normal loss. And to think about how soon, maybe as soon as next game, many of those missed 3s from the likes of Stewart, Livers, and Knox will be shots taken by Bojan Bogdanovic.
Then maybe the Pistons can get a victory and end this damn losing streak.