Detroit Pistons battle back in second half, fall short to Phoenix Suns
The Detroit Pistons aren’t in the market for moral victories, but they did that Thursday night against the Suns, who finished first in Phoenix with 114-103.
Detroit made a comeback against the league’s most victorious team before going offensive in the final minutes.
What got the Pistons back into the game – reduced the deficit to three points after falling back up to 18 – and to play six points 3:41?
“It was the guys’ resilience,” said Pistons coach Dwane Casey. “They are very resilient and bounce back. We were close, but then some of our stupid mistakes jumped up before us. We have to learn from them.
“There were some positives, but it didn’t take away the charm of not being able to hold out to win.”
BOX SCORE: suns 114, piston 103
It was the eighth consecutive loss for the Pistons (4-18), the worst record in the NBA.
It was the 18th win in a row for the Suns (19-3), who have the best record in the league only three seasons after 19-63.
Detroit, scratching and clawing to the end, was led by striker Jerami Grant (34 points, six rebounds) and guard Cade Cunningham, who scored 19 with five assists despite fouling the bench half of the first half.
Center Isaiah Stewart had 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Casey praised him for taking on one of the longest centers in our league in 2018, Deandre Ayton (17 points, 12 rebounds).
“He’s got some hard, hard rebounds,” Casey said. “This is a championship-caliber team and you put yourself in a position (to win) and it’s not great. That’s frustrating from a coach’s point of view. Not frustrating, but it does make you feel a little anxious.
“As long as we learn from it, good things will happen to our record.”
Phoenix, despite lacking an injured shooting guard and leading scorer Devin Booker, still had seven players in the double digits. Cameron Johnson (19), Cameron Payne (19) and Mikal Bridges (18) set the pace. Point guard Chris Paul (12 points, 12 assists) led the attack.
The Pistons went 0-5 on the road trip that ended with that game, and they play Oklahoma City at Little Caesars Arena the next Monday night.
Detroit was up to 18 points behind at the start of the third quarter but outperformed the Suns by 30-18 that quarter and reduced the deficit to 87-81 at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Pistons thought they tied the game, 82-all, to a 3-pointer from Reserve Guard Hamidou Diallo before the shot was denied on a videotape. Not long after that, Diallo (five points, two steals, two assists and a rebound) took an elbow up Cunningham’s nose and had to leave the game briefly to fight the blood out of his nose.
“Hamidou Diallo is playing his best basketball right now, all around,” said Casey. “Not just the scoring, he’s also one of our better pick and roll defenders. I’m really proud to see that from him. “
Cunningham and Grant sparked the comeback. Both scored 12 in the 12-minute quarter, which was highlighted by a run of 19-5 pistons. Cunningham hit a bucket and then a 3-pointer to make 82-79, but it ended up with Detroit never getting any closer.
“Cade held his hands back well,” Casey said, demonstrating his hands up and back to avoid fouls. Cunningham played another 26 minutes without getting a fourth foul.
“It was a learning experience and I thought he learned from it. The great thing about Cade is that he is a quick learner. He and Killian (Hayes) play off each other and they’re good for each other. Pistons fans should get used to this for a long time.
“We’re trying to get a feel for what we can do with the two of them in the game with their strengths. Cade, who shoots the ball as it is, helps tremendously. A tough learning experience during the entire road trip for two young rearmates. But hopefully we’ll learn from it, because the hits just keep coming. “
The Pistons led 5-4 but never again.
Called for his third foul in the middle of the first quarter, Cunningham only played 5:17 before taking a seat on the bench. He came back with 7:20 remainder in the second quarter. Casey had Frank Jackson on the scorer’s table but couldn’t get him into the game fast enough to save Cunningham from his third foul.
Cunningham played cautiously – tried to avoid a fourth foul and succeeded in that regard – and missed both shots when he stepped back into action. But he found a way to foul in the second half.
Cunningham was 2 for 4 while taking his only 3-pointer for five points in the first quarter.
He had no chance to play against Booker, who suffered a hamstring injury while defeating Golden State on Tuesday and was eliminated. Booker, who was born in Grand Rapids and spent part of his freshman year at Grandville High, averages 23.2 points.
Booker went to Moss Point, Mississippi High when his father – who played briefly in the NBA – ended his long professional career and returned to his home state. Melvin Booker played in Missouri, and his son limited his selections to Michigan, Michigan State, Florida, Mizzou, and his final selections to Kentucky.
Landry Shamet replaced Booker in the starting line-up and finished the race with 14 points.
Hayes filled the gap left by rookie Cunningham by scoring 10 goals in the first half. He was 4 for 5 out of the field and hit both 3-point attempts. He had hit double digits four times in 16 previous games, with his season high on November 13th in Toronto.
However, Hayes missed all four shots in the second half and never scored again.
The sophomore point guard has played well in the three games since returning from a thumb injury on his left shooting hand and wears a splint for protection.
Casey was impressed with what he thought his two young guards learned and how they reacted to playing Paul in a back room.
“When you play against Chris Paul, you are playing against one of the brightest players in our league,” said Casey. “He’s the best pick and roll player. He knows where everyone is on the floor.
“To learn from him how to control the game with the ball and how to understand every situation. So there is a game in the game and they should learn it. “
Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.