Minus 3 starters, Pistons go cold in 2nd half and come up short at New York
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 108-100 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS – With Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes both out – Saddiq Bey also missed the game – that meant Saben Lee got his second start of the preseason and the chance to make a move for a spot in the rotation. Dwane Casey wants most for Lee to push the pace, grow as a playmaker and play consistently well on defense with scoring a lesser concern. But 3-point shooting – the willingness to take them more often, primarily – was an off-season focus for Lee and the second-year guard knocked down four triples without a miss, including 3 of 3 in the first half when the Pistons rebounded from Monday’s lopsided loss at Memphis to lead the Knicks despite being shorthanded. Lee, who went against ex-teammate Derrick Rose much of the game, finished with 14 points, four assists and two steals and surely helped his cause. The other players elevated to the starting unit besides Lee were Josh Jackson and Frank Jackson. Both made their presence known, Josh Jackson with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists and Frank Jackson 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Frank Jackson found ways to contribute even on a night when his 3-point shot – he made them at a 41 percent clip last season – wasn’t falling, Jackson going 2 of 6 after missing his first four. Cunningham has missed almost all of training camp with a sprained ankle and hasn’t played in any of the first three preseason games. Hayes missed a week, including the preseason opener, with a sprained ankle, then suffered a concussion in Monday’s loss at New York. Bey sprained his ankle in Memphis. “We got the injury bug, thankfully, now and hopefully it clears up once we get started,” Dwane Casey said. With the loss, the Pistons fell to 1-2 in preseason, which wraps up Friday when they host Philadelphia.
HEAD TO HEAD – The 1-2 finishers in 2021’s Most Improved Player balloting, Julius Randle and Jerami Grant, were matched up against each other for a good chunk of Wednesday’s game. The box score will say Randle got the better of the matchup, but it’s not quite what it seems since Randle did much of his damage in a four-minute span of the third quarter after Grant checked out. Grant finished with 18 points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Grant had a nice flurry in the first quarter with a tough finish in transition, a blocked shot on R.J. Barrett that led directly to a Josh Jackson transition layup, a drawn charge against Randle and a made 3-pointer. Later, Grant baited Randle into fouling him while taking a 3-point shot, making all three, and then drew another charge on Randle. When Grant checked out late in the third quarter, Randle took advantage of his absence by knocking down three quick triples. Randle scored 11 of his 29 points in the final four minutes after Grant checked out and the Pistons were outscored by 13 over the span, going from an eight-point lead to a five-point deficit entering the fourth quarter.
QUITE A FIND – Jamorko Pickett spent four years at a high major program, Georgetown, but he might have been hiding in plain sight. The Pistons moved quickly to sign him up for their Summer League team after Pickett went undrafted in July and by the time they left Las Vegas Pickett had earned an Exhibit 10 contract, essentially an invitation to training camp. And when the Pistons eased their roster crunch by trading Sekou Doumbouya and Jahlil Okafor to Brooklyn, they locked up Pickett to a two-way contract. With all of the injuries on the wing to Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey and rookies Isaiah Livers and Chris Smith, Pickett has played in all three preseason games and had his best showing at New York. In 10 first-half minutes, Pickett contributed seven points and five rebounds, making 3 of 4 shots, including two tip-ins and a contested 3-pointer with the shot clock about to expire. He also had another three wiped out by a Hami Diallo offensive foul. Pickett played seven minutes in the second half without adding to his points or rebounds totals while not taking another shot.