Minus starting backcourt, Pistons pick up a win over Spurs to open preseason
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 115-105 win over the San Antonio Spurs at Little Caesars Arena
THREE OF A KIND – If things indeed happen in threes, then the Pistons have exhausted their run of sprained ankles. The same injury prevented the much-anticipated NBA debut of Cade Cunningham as well as kept 2020 lottery pick Killian Hayes and Frank Jackson sidelined for Wednesday’s preseason opener. The starting frontcourt was intact and as expected: Jerami Grant alongside 2020 first-round picks Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey. The Pistons led by 17 points after a first quarter in which they hit 7 of 10 from the 3-point line. But they went 0 of 6 in the second quarter and the Spurs took a one-point lead by outscoring the Pistons 25-7 to start the quarter, getting back in it on the strength of offensive rebounding and ex-Michigan Stater Bryn Forbes’ 3-point shooting. He hit his first four and finished with 20 points, hitting 6 of 8 from the arc. The Pistons pushed the lead back to 11 midway through the third quarter and then the bench unit put the hammer down to start the fourth quarter, bumping the cushion back to 17 by the time Dwane Casey brought rookies Luka Garza and Jamorko Pickett into the mix with 7:30 to go. Garza and Pickett both dented the scoreboard, too, with Garza already looking like a fan favorite after earning his way into a roster berth following a standout Summer League for the reigning consensus national college Player of the Year out of Iowa. Grant led the Pistons with 19 points in a little less than 24 minutes.
BENCH BUNCH – With his starting backcourt out, Dwane Casey opted to keep his second unit intact and instead elevated Saben Lee and Rodney McGruder to the starting lineup to keep Cory Joseph running the point with the players he’s practiced alongside and figures to spearhead off the bench – Josh Jackson and Hamidou Diallo on the wings with Kelly Olynyk at center and Trey Lyles at power forward. Frank Jackson will have a chance to crack that unit at some point, but the early returns were promising. It’s a more veteran unit with the three Canadians – Joseph, Olynyk and Lyles – at the heart of it and the hyperathletic wings in Josh Jackson and Diallo. The Canadian contingent has a feel for each other that showed up on several possessions, including one dazzling sequence that culminated with Joseph splitting the defense and hitting Lyles for a corner three. Joseph finished with 14 points (7 of 10 shooting) with six assists and no turnovers in 25 minutes; Olynyk (6 of 11) matched Joseph’s 14 points and six assists; and Lyles scored nine points by hitting 3 of 4 shots, all from the 3-point line. Josh Jackson was outstanding with 16 points, four rebounds and two assists and Diallo pitched in nine points and six boards.
BEY’S BAG – Saddiq Bey showed in Summer League an intent to diversity his game after taking two-thirds of his shots from the 3-point arc as an NBA rookie. Bey put the ball on the floor several times to get his offense going, setting up Isaiah Stewart for a layup in the opening minutes and working his way to mid-range and paint shots off the dribble as he rarely did as a rookie. Bey’s going to have a strength advantage over most matchups at small forward and he clearly used that to overpower Doug McDermott a handful of times in the opener to get into the paint. Improved ballhandling and a better feel for what he can do within the scope of the offense can weaponize Bey’s offensive versatility. Bey played 24 minutes and finished 1 for 4 from the 3-point line but scored 13 points, going 6 of 13 overall, and added five rebounds, three assists and a steal.