What a weird game.
For nearly three quarters, the Detroit Pistons were comatose. Down three starters — Jaden Ivey (personal), Bojan Bogdanovic (achilles), and Isaiah Stewart (hip) — against the Charlotte Hornets, the Pistons’ effort couldn’t have been worse.
They couldn’t shoot. They wouldn’t defend. They were dead on arrival.
Then, everything changed in the fourth quarter. LaMelo Ball, the Hornets star guard, went down with an injury midway through the third and, slowly, all of the good plays the Hornets were making went south.
Detroit picked up its defense, and it got them back into the game.
But, as things go with this team, it all fell apart late. The Pistons cut a 24-point lead to 5, but never got any closer as the Ball-less Hornets pulled away for a 117-106 win.
Aside from a sustained stretch of giving a crap from the middle of the third quarter to the middle of the fourth, the Pistons were at their worst on Monday. Really, you can chalk it up to their shooting — which was a special kind of bad.
Detroit missed 23 of its 26 attempts from 3-point range, including a 1/8 showing by Alec Burks (17 points) in a spot start.
There were a few performances that stood out amongst the ugly.
First, it’s the centers. James Wiseman started at center and flashed a lot of the interesting things he can do offensively. He was in his bag down low, scoring around the basket well against the Hornets standout rookie, Mark Williams.
He scored a game-high 23 points on 9/11 shooting and knocked down a triple, his first as a Piston. Wiseman also showed the kind of end-to-end mobility that made him so appealing coming out of Memphis:
Wiseman runs the floor and euros for the finish pic.twitter.com/6fCjZzDaPD— Rip Haminkton (@RedAlternates) February 28, 2023
There are certainly flaws to his game, but I’m encouraged because you can see how he becomes a bench contributor. It’s not dreaming about what he might be able to do someday. He can score right now. He uses his big body well right now. I wish he set better screens and was tougher on the glass, but so far he’s been fine.
Surprisingly, Marvin Bagley continued to thrive, too.
Back from a hand injury, he followed up his big game against the Raptors with 21 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. He’s scoring at will and really rebounding the hell out of the ball.
He and Wiseman are giving Detroit a consistent presence down low offensively, something they really needed without Bogey tonight.
But with Isaiah Livers leaving tonight’s game after just 9 minutes due to an ankle injury, both were put in a tough spot defensively as Hamidou Diallo stepped in as the power forward — until the final minutes when Dwane Casey decided to play both bigs, which... wasn’t great, either.
Diallo, for all his shortcomings, continues to be the jolt in the arm this team needs. He plays hard and that energy is contagious. He had his best game of the season with 23 points and was crucial in the comeback late in the third and early in the fourth quarter.
Overall, it was a rough night for the backcourt, but I’ve got to give Killian Hayes some credit. He did not look interested in scoring early on tonight — and he was a non-factor trying to guard Ball, who hit five triples in the first half — but Hayes was a different player after half.
He was more aggressive as a scorer and spoon fed those bigs down low. Hayes notched a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists, which is good. I just felt like the opportunity to do more was there without Bogey and Ivey tonight.
Finally, RJ Hampton got his first real run with the Pistons. I know he got some cardio in this weekend against Toronto, but he was a legit part of the rotation tonight.
Hampton finished with two points and five rebounds in 23 minutes, his only basket a fast break dunk. He plays with great energy on defense and really runs the floor on offense, but frankly he had no idea what he was doing out there — specifically on offense.
It’s early but I think he’s got a ways to go before he’s giving the Pistons good minutes.
The Pistons now have a 4.5 game “lead” on the Hornets in the chase for Victor Wembanyama. I’d say that gives them a green light to go out and win some games and make this interesting, but it sounds like Ball has a fractured ankle, per Shams Charania.
This team can still finish the season like they did in 2020-21 — playing hard, giving teams a run for their money, stealing a few games while losing enough — and give the fans better than they have most of the season.
But as we saw tonight, the Hornets are baddddd without LaMelo.
So, the race to the bottom continues.