Again missing Grant & Jackson, Pistons run out of firepower in loss to Knicks
Chris Schwegler (NBAE via Getty Images)
Three quick observations from Thursday night’s 114-104 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden
ON FUMES – The Pistons scored 43 points in the first quarter Wednesday, their best quarter of the season. It took them more than 20 minutes to get there against New York 24 hours later – and that’s when the trouble really began. When Isaiah Stewart put back his own miss with 3:52 left in the first half, the Pistons were only four points behind New York. But the Knicks went on an 11-0 run to lead by 13 at halftime and the Pistons, a night after season highs in 3-pointers (20) and assists (39), didn’t have enough firepower to overcome the deficit. After riding the wave in their 129-105 win over Toronto in a game moved from its original Tuesday date to Wednesday, the Pistons looked like they were on fumes at the midway point of the third quarter when a 9-2 Knicks run turned a manageable nine-point deficit into a 16-point hole. The Pistons had enough left to cut it to 10 several times in the fourth quarter. A key sequence came with four minutes left when a Mason Plumlee lob attempt was blocked and resulted in a Knicks breakaway, a four-point swing that left the Pistons trailing by 12. Even though the Pistons struggled to break 100 points, they managed to put eight scorers in double figures, led by Wayne Ellington with 17. The Knicks outrebounded the Pistons 47-29. The Pistons again played without both Jerami Grant and Josh Jackson, Grant with a quad contusion and Jackson with a stomach ailment. Grant had been upgraded from doubtful on Wednesday to questionable on Thursday, but the opportunity to rest for a week with the All-Star break on tap made it an easy call to keep him out again.
STEWART SIGNS – Troy Weaver expressed the notion that Isaiah Stewart had the skill set to expand his game to the perimeter eventually and Dwane Casey has said he sees clear evidence that Stewart is going to evolve into becoming a 3-point threat. He’s made one so far this season in five tries, but in the first half at New York Stewart knocked down three mid-range jump shots and showed off the form that validates Weaver and Casey’s belief in his perimeter potential. There’s no hitch in his motion and the ball comes out of his hand with the proper rotation. In recent vintage, Pistons young big men like Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond never appeared comfortable shooting beyond the paint and it put a cap on their ability to be impact players in an evolving NBA. Stewart, 19, is showing signs that he’s going to be able to meld his current skill set as a high-energy rebounder and disruptor with the threat of a perimeter shot and good touch and footwork around the basket. He finished with 10 points and four rebounds and made 5 of 6 shots, following up his only miss with a put-back.
SEKOU STEPS – Sekou Doumbouya flashed the signs of progress that he, his teammates and coaches spoke about in the off-season during preseason, but minutes were hard to come by early in the season behind Blake Griffin and Jerami Grant and then came a concussion that kept him out of three games last month. It had been a struggle from that point, but Grant’s quad injury that sidelined him for the final two games of the first half created an opportunity and Doumbouya at least saw a little bit of success to carry him into the second half. He scored nine points in the win over Toronto on Tuesday and came back with 10 points in 15 minutes at New York. Doumbouya’s 3-point shot has been erratic all season and he came into Thursday’s game hitting 22.8 percent from the arc and he was 2 of 17 in the past six games. But he hit his first two against the Knicks and finished 2 of 3 from the arc. He also scored on a nice drive that started on the right wing and saw Doumbouya dribble through the paint with his left hand and finish with it.