Caught short of big men, Pistons pick a bad night to fire blanks from 3-point line in loss to Pacers
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Thursday night’s 111-95 loss to the Indiana Pacers at Little Caesars Arena
2 MEN DOWN – Remember all the big men the Pistons had supposedly overstocked themselves with in November? With this week’s news that Jahlil Okafor would miss a minimum of six weeks after having surgery to clean up meniscus damage in his left knee, the Pistons were down to Mason Plumlee and rookie Isaiah Stewart at center. And then Plumlee was made inactive before tipoff with Indiana due to elbow bursitis, leaving Stewart to make his first start against a physical Indiana team that starts two big men, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Stewart had amassed career highs in minutes played and points before the third quarter was out and finished with 17 points (8 of 9 shooting) and seven rebounds. The Pistons were tied at halftime, but eventually playing short up front cost them. In the final two minutes of the first quarter when Stewart and Blake Griffin were on the bench resting, Indiana scored eight second-chance points. Stewart, averaging 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes, didn’t pick up his first until midway through the second quarter and finished with four in his 31 minutes. Stewart, third among rookie rebounders at 5.2 per game, had moved ahead of Okafor in the rotation. The Pistons have had a positive net rating (2.8) with Stewart on the floor and a negative net rating (minus-7.1) with him on the bench. Josh Jackson led the Pistons with 18 points. Jerami Grant shot 4 of 17 and had his streak of 23 straight games with multiple 3-point shots made, a Pistons franchise record, broken when a shot originally ruled a triple was overturned on replay.
A BIG VOID – The Pistons have to hope Mason Plumlee’s bursitis injury doesn’t keep him out for long – especially with Boston up next on Friday night and the likelihood that Blake Griffin, who has rested in every back to back this season, might be unavailable. Plumlee’s importance to the Pistons goes beyond his 9.9 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. Plumlee has been playing his best basketball over the past few weeks. Over the previous eight games heading into Thursday’s matchup, Plumlee had averaged 13.1 points and 9.5 rebounds on 70 percent shooting. His 46 dunks this season, many of them off of lobs or offensive rebounds, are tied for seventh in the NBA. He’s the quarterback of their defense, consistently praised by Dwane Casey for his communication skills, and he’s acknowledged as one of the best screeners in the NBA, which perhaps had something to do with the 5 of 28 (17.9 percent) 3-point shooting the Pistons experienced against Indiana. Without Plumlee to bang bodies with Indiana’s big men, Domantas Sabonis finished with 26 points and eight rebounds and Myles Turner 14 points and eight rebounds.
SMITH DEBUTS – Dennis Smith Jr., acquired earlier in the week along with Charlotte’s 2021 second-round pick in a deal that sent Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks, practiced for the first time with the Pistons on Wednesday and made his debut against Indiana. Smith was the point guard with the second unit, playing the first six minutes of the second quarter and 10 more second-half minutes. Smith, 23, missed his first two shots but scored on his third, a nice driving layup into the body of Domantas Sabonis. Smith finished with four points and two rebounds in 16 minutes. The No. 9 overall pick in 2017 of Dallas, Smith spent 1½ seasons with the Mavericks and the past two with the Knicks, who acquired him in a trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas. The Pistons had used Rodney McGruder as the backup point guard over the last week with Rose missing the final three games before his trade to New York. Saben Lee, still playing on a two-way contract and thus limited to 50 games for the season, was inactive against Indiana.