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‘It’s a lesson we had to learn’ – Pistons get overrun by scorching Nets

Dwane Casey, like his 29 peers across the NBA, mines something of value from every game. He’ll need to do some furious digging to find it from Sunday’s loss at Brooklyn when the Nets set a franchise record by hitting 65.3 percent of their shots – bettering a mark also set against the Pistons from 1982 when the New Jersey Nets hit 65.2 percent to win 147-132 near the tail end of Isiah Thomas’ rookie season.

The Pistons were up against it, of course, going against the runaway NBA title favorites, playing a back to back and going without No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham one night after his debut.

Casey knows all of that, but for the mission he and general manager Troy Weaver want to pilot for the Pistons, he’s not tolerant of caving to those built-in excuses.

“If you don’t come in mentally ready to play against a high-powered team, it’s a recipe for disaster,” he said after Brooklyn’s 117-91 win. “It’s a hard lesson to learn, but it’s a lesson we had to learn.”

The Nets remain without Kyrie Irving over his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccination, rendering him ineligible to play any home games where a New York City mandate prohibits his participation. But Kevin Durant – ejected late in the third quarter for what appeared an unprovoked forearm shiver to the neck and head of Kelly Olynyk – and James Harden combined for enough star power to overwhelm the Pistons.

“It’s the NBA. Everybody’s doing back to backs,” said veteran Cory Joseph, who led the Pistons with 13 points off the bench on a night the starters managed a combined 37 points. “No excuse on whatever the reason is. We’ve just got to play better. We allowed them to shoot 52 from three, 65.3 from the field. That’s way too high, especially a talented team like that.”

Durant hit 10 of 13 shots, including his only triple and a slew of contested mid-range jump shots. But Casey would put an asterisk on the “contested” descriptor.

“We were in position, but there’s a difference between being in position and making them feel us,” he said. “They did not feel us tonight. Whatever the excuse is – second game of a back to back – we did not bring the physicality. I was afraid of that.”

The Nets started hot and never cooled off. They were at 67 percent at halftime, 67 percent through three quarters and 67 percent with two minutes left before the frantic closing possessions. Harden racked up a triple-double: 18 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Bembry came off the Brooklyn bench to score a combined 31 points and make 13 of 16 shots. It was that kind of night.

For all of that, the Pistons appeared to have an opening to a comeback when Durant was ejected with 3:23 left in the third quarter. They cut their deficit to 13 after milking four points out of that possession on Durant’s flagrant-2, but then the Nets sucked any remaining suspense out of Barclays Center with an 11-0 run.

“I thought when they made that run in the third quarter, we let go of the rope,” Casey said. “You can’t do that against a high-powered and great-shooting team like the Brooklyn Nets.”

Cunningham sat out but not because of any negative response from the ankle that forced him to miss a month. Casey said it was the plan all along to hold him out of the back to back after so much down time. The Pistons have another back to back later this week, but Casey said Cunningham isn’t precluded from playing on consecutive nights going forward.

In his absence, Casey elevated Hamidou Diallo to the starting lineup one night after he didn’t play in the win over Orlando. Casey wanted to keep intact the second unit that combined for 59 points in Saturday’s win. The bench combined for 54 more points on Sunday with Josh Jackson joining Joseph in double figures with 12. Rookie Jamorko Pickett scored his first NBA points, draining a 3-pointer, his only shot.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Pistons, who play arguably the East’s top three teams this week as Milwaukee (Tuesday), Philadelphia (Thursday) and Brooklyn (Friday) visit Little Caesars Arena.

If there’s value to be taken from Sunday’s loss, it will be Casey reminding the Pistons of what can happen against teams of that caliber if little resistance is offered.

“We didn’t come in with the same readiness we had last night,” Casey said. “You have to come out and represent the Pistons brand better than we did tonight.”