The Detroit Pistons won a game! Not a sentence I’ve been able to write since March 13. Tonight, they beat the Indiana Pacers 122-115. In that previous March game, they beat the Indiana Pacers 117-97. They haven’t beat a non-Pacers team since eking out a double overtime win against the Spurs on Feb. 10. Yeah, it’s been a while.
The victory was important, though. First, it had no impact on the lottery standings as the Pistons had already secured the league’s worst record (yay?). Second, the W snapped an 11-game losing streak. Third, it allowed the team to avoid tying the franchise record for fewest wins in a season.
Not only was the win important, but how they got it was especially encouraging. This game was all about the dominance of Detroit’s back court. Jaden Ivey and Killian Hayes combined for 57 points and 15 assists. Ivey (29 points) scored at least 20 points for the seventh time in his past 15 games. It was also his fourth game of the season scoring at least 29. Hayes scored a career high 28 points on the night.
He was once again electric. On a night when his shot wasn’t falling consistently, he found a way to score 29 points and dish nine assists. He was able to score because there are just so many ways he can attack you. Even when his 3-ball wasn’t quite there (just 3-of-8), and he struggled to finish inside, he could still coax his way to the foul line 10 times and hit a pull-up middy.
To see the Pistons rookie continue to get more comfortable as the season has gone on, to put in the work into smoothing out his jumper, to turn the mid-range game from a giant question mark into a dangerous part of his arsenal, to turn the corner at start defending at a higher level. I just can’t say enough positive things about Ivey’s rookie season. But I can show you this:
It wasn’t just Ivey, though. Killian Hayes hit his career high thanks to some early three-pointers and some late mid-range pull-ups. He’s still not a consistent offensive threat, but his defense was as sharp as ever, generating four steals on the night. The shot looked really good tonight, including the misses. It will be a big offseason for him. If he can become a 37% 3-point shooter, get to the line at least a couple times a game and inch his true shooting percentage into the low 50s, he goes from a borderline player to a rock solid NBA backup point guard who might close out games because of his defense and his passing.
You could also call this the Cory Joseph revenge game. I don’t know why you would, but you definitely could have. The former Pacer scored 18 points and nailed all three of his 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. They were much-needed as the Pacers were crawling their way back in the game, but Joseph’s hot shooting helped keep them at bay.
Early on, this did not look like a team that was going to finally break its losing streak. The Pistons were down to nine healthy players including two two-way guys, and they lost starter James Wiseman in the first two minutes of action after he took a nasty elbow to the face courtesy of some friendly fire from Jalen Duren.
The Pacers then jumped out to a 12-2 run before the game’s next stoppage. The Pistons settled themselves, however, and they started crawling back. Late in the first quarter, and a Jalen Duren hook shot and then a Hayes’ 3-pointer gave Detroit its first lead, 29-27 with 2:28 to go.
Those baskets were the beginning of an 18-0 run that stretched into the second quarter and Detroit looked well in control. Eventually, they took a 73-57 lead into halftime.
Unfortunately for Detroit, they couldn’t sustain their energy and focus going into the second half, and Indian began slowly inching their way back into the game. After a James Johnson layup with 1:15 to go in the third, it was just a six-point lead and the Pistons had a game on their hands.
Luckily, some timely Ivey buckets and assists and Cory Joseph’s sharpshooting kept Detroit afloat and they were able to leave Indiana with a victory.
The Pistons’ next and final game is Sunday at 1 p.m. ET visiting the Chicago Bulls.