Siva passes a test with 47-minute outing for depleted Pistons backcourt
ORLANDO – If bad things indeed happen in threes, the Pistons can exhale. On top of Rodney Stuckey breaking his thumb by getting it caught in his car door and Brandon Jennings suffering a fractured jaw courtesy of an impacted wisdom tooth, food poisoning took down Will Bynum.
Tack on Chauncey Billups taking a scheduled maintenance day off and Maurice Cheeks was down to two healthy guards for the sixth preseason game Sunday night at Orlando, rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva.
Hey, at least it made his decision-making process pretty easy.
Cheeks tried to give Siva, the only one available with any meaningful point guard experience, a short rest early in the second quarter. In three possessions, the Pistons committed two turnovers and missed a shot rushed as the shot clock was winding down. Their eight-point lead shrunk to three and one minute later, Cheeks rushed Siva back into the game.
“I always knew point guards were important,” Cheeks joked after the 87-86 loss, a crazy game in which the Pistons fell behind by 23 points late in the third quarter after their early mojo was thrown out of whack by Siva’s brief respite. “I tried to just give him a breather, because I knew he was going to have to play the whole second half, and it kind of collapsed on us right there. But we got back in it.”
Siva’s night wasn’t flawless. He committed nine of the Pistons’ 26 turnovers, 20 of which came in the middle two quarters after a promising start. But for a kid who missed nearly the first two weeks of training camp with a calf muscle tear, he earned another measure of trust among the coaching staff and in his locker room with a gritty 47-minute outing in which he scored 12 points, dished seven assists and grabbed four rebounds. Not renowned as a shooter, Siva drained a triple late in the game that brought the Pistons within one.
“He passed a test in Summer League in my book,” said Andre Drummond, who scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. “For a rookie to come in and play 47 minutes and play the way he did is absolutely outstanding. Of course he made mistakes. What do you expect? He’s a rookie. Everybody makes mistakes. I’m still making mistakes and it’s my second year. But the way he played tonight, I’m really proud of him. I told him that as soon as we walked off the court. He didn’t fold, didn’t nuthin’. He just played his heart out.”
“He’s tough and that was tough for him to play against that kind of defense,” Cheeks said. “With those guys swarming him like that and he’s not that big, so it’s going to be a little tougher for him. I knew he could play that way. I thought he was great.”
Siva kept clawing, diving to the floor for a loose ball at one point on the other side of half court in the fourth quarter as the Pistons kept cutting into Orlando’s lead.
“There were a couple of mistakes I made out there, just taking care of the ball, but they gave me a lot of good compliments in front of the team, playing all those minutes and just pushing through it,” Siva said. “Like Mo said, he never looks at a stat sheet after a game. He felt like the guys played hard. He felt like we all contributed something and he’s seen what we can do and that’s what we’re trying to build on. When guys get healthy, our rotation will get better, our rhythm will get better. But right now, we’re just trying to push through.”
Cheeks reached his team with some well-chosen words that, Drummond said, sparked their comeback.
“I can’t even tell you the words that were said to us by coach Mo,” he said. “There were quite a few words that were exchanged by all of us. He knows how to get his players going. That fueled the fire for us and we came out and played with some fire. He’s a players coach. He played in the league, so he knows what it takes to get a reaction out of somebody. He says certain things that make you think twice.”
The Pistons actually took a lead, 86-85, on a Greg Monroe (19 points on 7 of 11 shooting) layup with 56 seconds left. Orlando finished the scoring 18 seconds later on a Kyle O’Quinn layup when the Pistons nearly forced a turnover and then got caught with too many players above the free-throw line after the Magic recovered the loose ball. A Josh Smith 3-pointer missed with 31 seconds to play and Orlando nearly ran out the clock before the Pistons got a desperation lob to Drummond that was deflected away as the buzzer sounded.
“We just needed to play a little bit harder and make them miss shots,” Cheeks said. “They were making shots, but I don’t think we were helping them miss shots. We put some different guys in there and we just started being a little more aggressive defensively.”
It was in danger of being a throwaway night, understandable given the extraordinary run of bad luck to their backcourt. But their rookie point guard gave them something to salvage from the night as they rallied behind the heart of their rookie point guard, who said he was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
“Heck,” he said, “I might sleep well for the next two nights.”