3-point deficiency catches up to Pistons as they fall to Denver and MVP candidate Jokic
Chris Schwegler (NBAE via Getty Images)
Three quick observations from Friday night’s 104-91 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Little Caesars Arena
DEIVIDAS DIALS IT UP – The Pistons already were down eight players when Sekou Doumbouya came down ill before tipoff, leaving Dwane Casey with eight players to go up against Denver, which will have home-court advantage as either the No. 3 or 4 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. So there was no way Deividas Sirvydis wasn’t going to get an opportunity to top his previous career highs in points (eight), rebounds (six, twice) and minutes (24), all achieved within the past week. Sirvydis, 20, blew past his scoring high early in the second quarter after entering the game with a little more than four minutes remaining in the first quarter. He would have topped his minutes career high, too, except he hit the floor hard twice, once in each half, and left the game with a left leg injury. He hit 4 of 7 from the 3-point arc and finished with 16 points in 19 minutes. He scored all of his 16 points in 15 first-half minutes, when he hit 4 of 6 from the 3-point arc while his teammates went 1 of 16. But when he was ruled out for the game, the Pistons were left with seven players – and precious little perimeter shooting. The three perimeter starters – Hamidou Diallo, Josh Jackson and Killian Hayes – combined to shoot 0 of 18 from the 3-point arc. Pistons starters went 2 of 30 from three with Saddiq Bey (2 of 10) the only starter to hit one. The Nuggets, who lost Jamal Murray to a season-ending knee injury last month, were playing a back to back and without several key players, including Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Aaron Gordon and Facu Campazzo, who has taken Murray’s spot in the starting lineup.
TOUGH LUCK – Jahlil Okafor’s first start in a Pistons uniform just so happened to pit him against the presumptive NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic. Dwane Casey said before the game that even with Mason Plumlee and Isaiah Stewart both unavailable, leaving Okafor as the only pure center available, he’d be cautious with Okafor’s use. Okafor began the season as backup to Plumlee, but Stewart, the 19-year-old rookie drafted 16th overall last November, quickly usurped that role and pushed Okafor out of the rotation. Then came a knee injury that required surgery to repair cartilage damage, keeping Okafor sidelined from early February to early April. Okafor matched his season high in minutes with 22 and in points with 13. Tyler Cook served as backup center for Okafor. He set a new career high with 17 points in 34 minutes, hitting 7 of 8 shots and grabbing five rebounds. Jokic burnished his MVP resume, finishing with 20 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists. He secured his triple-double with more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter and left the game for good shortly after that.
WELCOME BACK – Hamidou Diallo had missed the past four games, away from the team for personal reasons, but the momentum he generated with a career-high 35 points in his last game, May 4 vs. Charlotte, carried over 10 days later. Diallo led the Pistons with 18 points and 12 rebounds. In 18 games with the Pistons prior to Friday, Diallo carried averages of 10.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 22 minutes a game while shooting 47 percent overall and 45.5 percent – well above his career average of 26.2 percent – from the 3-point arc. The perimeter shot was rusty on Friday, though, as Diallo went 0 of 5 from the 3-point line. Diallo’s extreme athleticism and 7-foot wingspan allow him to get to the rim and he’s proven an above-average finisher inside, though he had some tough-luck misses in the paint against the Nuggets. He’s also an asset as a perimeter defender and a terrific rebounder from the wing.