Chalk it up to experience: Pistons go young, lose a game of streaks and come up short in San Antonio
Scott Cunningham (NBAE via Getty Images)
Three quick observations from Thursday night’s 106-91 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center
TEXAS 2-STEP – Killian Hayes, back in the starting lineup after sitting out the first of a Texas back to back on Wednesday, got a little more aggressive in looking for his own shot in Thursday’s loss at San Antonio. The results were spotty – Hayes had a nice burst late in the first half and had 10 points at halftime – but it’s all part of a rookie point guard finding his way. Hayes had some artful finishes inside and drained a spot-up triple in his first-half flurry of scoring, then missed on two more difficult finishes in the third quarter. Hayes wound up missing his first five of his shots of the second half before a late layup, finishing with 12 points and five assists. Josh Jackson kept the Pistons in it, scoring 29 points, and Frank Jackson stayed hot as the scoring anchor for the bench, adding 14 points. The Spurs used a 16-2 run after a 6-0 Pistons run gave them a five-point lead early in the second quarter to take a nine-point lead that was the first half’s largest until Rudy Gay’s bucket at the buzzer made it a 10-point halftime margin. They extended it to a 16-point lead midway through the third quarter, but the Pistons went on a 13-0 run to pull within three. They went scoreless on their next seven possessions, though, and the Spurs opened their lead back to 12. The Pistons bench cut it to three with a 7-0 run with seven minutes to play, but the Spurs answered with a 13-1 run to pull away for good.
PLAYING IT SAFE – For the third time in the past five games, the Pistons sat three starters and several rotation players – all part of the organization’s desire to make sure they get to the end of the season with a healthy roster so the summer isn’t spent on rehabilitation instead of player development. The Pistons went 2-0 in the first two of those games, wins over Oklahoma City and Cleveland. Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Cory Joseph were the starters who sat a night after the Pistons lost at Dallas. Wayne Ellington also was held out, while Dennis Smith Jr. (knee) and Rodney McGruder (elbow) remain out with injuries. Hamidou Diallo was on the injury report, listed as questionable, with a quad contusion but he came off the bench as Dwane Casey went with a 10-man rotation that included a second unit of Diallo, Saben Lee, Jahlil Okafor, Frank Jackson and Tyler Cook. San Antonio, which came into the game in the 10th spot in the Western Conference and in line for a spot in the newly instituted play-in tournament, held back leading scorer DeMar DeRozan.
BEY WATCH – San Antonio was a popular landing spot for Saddiq Bey in mock drafts last fall, but the Spurs took Florida State sophomore Devin Vassell with the 11th pick instead. Comparing statistics among rookies never tells the full story because it’s also about opportunity, but Vassell has become a regular part of San Antonio’s rotation and has played a significant number of minutes, 759, or an average of 16.1 a game in the 47 games in which he’s appeared to Bey’s 1,467 or 25.7 a game in the 57 games in which he’s appeared. Vassell is an outstanding shooting as his percentages of .400 from the 3-point arc and .879 from the foul line attest. Bey entered Thursday’s game shooting a nearly identical .876 from the foul line in addition to his .380 from the 3-point arc. Bey averages 11.4 points and 4.1 rebounds to Vassell’s 5.1 and 2.7. Both had relatively quiet games, Bey winding up with nine points and two rebounds, hitting 2 of 4 from the 3-point arc. He twisted his ankle midway through the third quarter when he came down on Rudy Gay’s ankle while making a 3-point shot. Vassell finished with two points on 1 of 4 shooting plus two rebounds and an assist in 22 minutes.