The Detroit Pistons were down just two against the NBA Champion Denver Nuggets when Cade Cunningham checked out with 6:21 left in the second quarter. That was the end of the good news for the Pistons, who lost to the Nuggets 131-114 and lost Cunningham for who knows how long with a left knee strain.
Denver was not particularly engaged in the first quarter-and-a-half. For most of the first half, Jokic had zero points and seemed much more comfortable flinging the ball around to rack up some assists. The Pistons kept the game close, and they even took the lead a few times.
Then Cade went out, the Pistons played a few ugly minutes to close the second quarter, and the Nuggets smelled blood in the third. Detroit’s offense couldn’t get untracked to begin the second half, looking discombobulated without its star point guard. The lack of execution and effort then extended to the defense, and the Nuggets decided it was time to put their boot on the necks of their opponent. Jamal Murray, who finished with a game-high 37 points, started hitting tough jumpers, DeAndre Jordan decided to jump in the Wayback Machine for some highlight dunks, and Peyton Watson decided to show the Pistons what an effective NBA wing looked like.
The Pistons gave up 42 points to the Nuggets in the third quarter, and the game was effectively over. Jokic checked out with 3:03 remaining in the third and never returned. He finished with four points, seven rebounds, 16 assists and five blocks. And he never really looked like he was trying.
Detroit was led by Jalen Duren who scored 20 points and added five rebounds and four assists.
The game’s outcome is largely beside the point. What matters is how the Pistons will react and remake an offense if it is without Cunningham for any appreciable amount of time.
Marcus Sasser (seven points, one assist) struggled mightily in heavy minutes off the bench, and Killian Hayes (two points, six assists) remains a complete non-factor as an offensive threat.
As the Pistons regroup, it will be an opportunity for Jaden Ivey to become a much more integral engine of Detroit’s offense. He finished with 13 points and six assists, and while he was used as a catch-and-shoot option in the first half, he was much more assertive in the second half.
If these Pistons are going to have any amount of success with Cade out of the lineup, it will be because Monty Williams and Jaden Ivey learned how not just to co-exist but thrive together.
It’s on both of them to figure out how to make it happen.