‘A lot of positives we brought to the locker room’ – Pistons finish strong in loss at Philly

The Pistons 3-point shooting needed a booster shot – and it finally came. It was a case of too little, too late to save them from remaining winless, dropping a 110-102 game to Philadelphia. But they hit 7 of 11 from distance in the fourth quarter to cut a 22-point deficit to five and it sends them home feeling a mysterious shooting funk is behind them. Combine that with the imminent return of No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham and better days beckon.

“Coming into the locker room, there wasn’t a lot of heads down,” Saddiq Bey said after leading the comeback with 14 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. “It was actually more of a motivating-slash-exciting thing. If we can play like that, that last stretch we had in the fourth – if we can start games like that and finish games like that – we’ll put ourselves in good position every game.”

The Pistons came into the game dead last in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 22 percent and they were right in line with that through three quarters at 6 of 28. Their 3-point shooting was still a net negative for the game – they were at 33 percent and Philadelphia finished at 44 percent – but the first real taste of 3-point productivity all season surely has to help their confidence for Saturday’s homecoming.

“Sharing the ball, moving the ball, playing more free,” said Jerami Grant, returning after missing Monday’s game with an elbow injury. “Took a long time for us. We’ve just got to play for 48 minutes like that and we’ll come out with a win.”

Cunningham could be in the lineup when the Pistons host Orlando on Saturday. Dwane Casey said before the game that Cunningham is expected to practice with the Pistons on Friday after going through a few days of practices with the Motor City Cruise, the team’s G League affiliate.

“He’s going to practice with us tomorrow and then we’re going to see,” Casey said. “We’re going to see how his body responds to practicing with the Cruise.”

It would be a leap to expect the rookie to hit the ground running when he’s missed the better part of a month with a sprained ankle and missed all of the preseason in addition to the first four regular-season games. But Cunningham’s shooting, passing, poise and basketball IQ are an ideal tonic for a struggling offense.

And if Bey, who came into the game 4 of 17 from the 3-point line after shooting 38 percent on high volume as a rookie and then went 0 of 4 through three quarters, truly got himself untracked with his 4 of 5 fourth-quarter sniping, all the better.

“Personally, I didn’t start off the game well – missed some early reads, some easy shots. Rhythm was a little off at the beginning, but I want to win so bad, I’m going to try to find a way to help the team as much as possible. Just trying to help and be the best I could be as a teammate, as a player, to give us a chance at the end.”

The Pistons went on a 16-1 run after falling behind by 22 and were within five and seemingly cut the lead to three with 35 seconds left on a Killian Hayes layup. But the basket was whistled off when Kelly Olynyk was called for an illegal screen that the Pistons saw differently.

“I looked at that. That’s a tough play,” Casey said. “We have the best officials in the world, but tough call.”

Joel Embiid, who was questionable to play, then drained a clinching triple to finish a 30-point, 18-rebound night.

Bey’s 19 led the Pistons and Grant added 14. Until Bey’s fourth-quarter explosion, it was Casey’s bench that kept the Pistons within arm’s reach of Philadelphia – until the 76ers bench hit 5 of 6 from the 3-point arc to start the fourth quarter and balloon its lead to 22. The Pistons got 22 straight points from their bench in the first half and 49 for the game, led by Olynyk’s 14 and nine apiece for Frank Jackson, Trey Lyles and Cory Joseph.

So it wasn’t a win, but the Pistons got Grant back – which helped restore the potency of the bench, allowing Olynyk to rejoin that unit – got Bey untracked, saw the ball go through the basket and expect the jolt provided by Cunningham’s return coming. After opening with four playoff contenders, they’ll host Orland on Saturday.

“You always want to get off the schneid,” Casey said. “I would say the group of teams we played would be a tough hill for anyone in this league on the road. Nobody’s panicking. I knew going into this year it’s going to be a teaching experience, a learning experience. I can see growth in certain guys. We’ve just got to continue to do that.”

“It was definitely tough because you want to win the game,” Bey said of the Olynyk call and the Embiid three to quell the Pistons comeback. “But there’s a lot of positives we brought to the locker room leading to our next game on Saturday. You don’t like to lose, but there’s a lot of optimism going into the next game.”