A day Pistons offense took a step forward, overshadowed by Boston’s dynamic 1-2 punch

Jerami Grant
Jerami Grant’s 22 points gave him five straight games with 20 or more as the Pistons came up just short in Sunday’s rematch with Boston
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

If it wasn’t for two of the NBA’s best young players validating their All-Star status on two critical last-minute possessions, the topic du jour would be the Pistons offense throwing off sparks of its own.

The 120 points they put up on a traditionally good defense was 24 more than the Pistons scored in Friday’s win over Boston and matched their season high. They did it by getting good shots, knocking them down to the tune of 48 percent overall and 44.4 percent from the 3-point arc, getting to the foul line and making 22 of their 25 tries and limiting their turnovers to 10.

It was balanced – six players scored 13 or more points – and it was cohesive, something not much in evidence in the early going and understandably so for a roster that turned over more than any other in the NBA and then had to deal with a truncated off-season and training camp.

But scintillating shot-making by Boston’s Jaylen Brown (31 points, 13 of 16 shooting and 5 of 8 from the 3-point arc) and playmaking by teammate Jayson Tatum (12 assists and eight rebounds on top of his 24 points, including 4 of 8 from three) in the final minute led to a 122-120 Pistons loss.

“I want to see how many teams do a good job this year on Jaylen Brown and Tatum,” Dwane Casey lamented after Sunday’s matinee. “They’re probably two of the most dynamic players I’ve seen in a while when they have the ball in their hands. Seemed like they made every shot.”

The Pistons led by a point after Mason Plumlee’s two free throws with 42 seconds left, but the lead lasted eight seconds. Tatum drew the Pistons to him with his drive to the left elbow, pulling rookie Saddiq Bey in just enough from the opposite wing to give Brown the opening he needed to pull the trigger on a triple. Jerami Grant, whose 22 points gave him five straight 20-plus-point outings, tied the game with a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left, giving Boston the last shot.

Alas, that shot was taken by Tatum – and he didn’t miss. His step-back from 16 feet with 2.9 seconds left gave Boston the lead. The Pistons, without a timeout, didn’t get much of a shot off. Blake Griffin, returning from concussion protocol, had the ball slapped at as he rose for a game-winning triple and could only fling it toward the rim.

“I thought it was an entertaining game,” Casey allowed, “other than our defense down the stretch.”

Boston would up shooting 57 percent and hit 15 of 33 from the 3-point arc, getting three big fourth-quarter triples from Semi Ojeleye off the bench. And yet for all of Boston’s hot shooting – and for all the heroics of its dynamic 1-2 wing punch – the Pistons were right there against one of the East’s acknowledged heavyweights.

“Ten turnovers – that’s great,” said Svi Mykhailiuk, who scored 15 off the bench after not playing in the first half. “I feel like we’re getting better at that aspect of the game. Today, everybody was hitting shots.”

Mykhailiuk played in the second half because Josh Jackson, who scored 13 points in 14 minutes, departed a minute into the third quarter with a right ankle injury. It was incurred as Jackson converted Boston’s second possession of the quarter into a layup off a turnover, just as he’d done with the first Celtics possession of the quarter. Casey had no update on Jackson as the game ended. He stayed in the game to make the free throw and complete the and-one play, but immediately was subbed out and went to the locker room.

Jackson assuredly would have been in the game for the final defensive possessions and guarding Tatum with Grant on Brown. Instead, Casey had to jockey down the stretch, using the rookie Bey for defense and Mykhailiuk for offense.

“That’s where it got us,” Casey said of Jackson’s injury. “We got stuck with playing some people on Tatum and Brown where we’d normally have Josh on them. Svi came in and gave us a boost offensively and I’ll have to see what he did defensively. It took a little toll on us, but that’s why we have a 15-man roster.”

And Casey used 11 from it in the first half even without Mykhailiuk. He used three centers in the first half – Plumlee, rookie Isaiah Stewart and Jahlil Okafor, likely a way to save some minutes for Plumlee with a back to back looming – and played only Grant (34) more than 30 minutes. Griffin, Plumlee, Jackson and Derrick Rose all scored 13 points.

“They’re a good defensive team,” Casey said. “They have a lot of length. We made our shots. I thought we had some drives in there where we had an opportunity to get a better shot, but it was just our defense down the stretch. All those things we can clean up and get better at. But I was happy with our offensive output and see some areas where we can get better defensively.”

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