Pistons again dig a hole and come back, but this time can’t overcome Utah’s cushion
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Sunday afternoon’s 96-86 loss to the Utah Jazz at Little Caesars Arena
DEEP FREEZE – Coming back from 20 points down makes for great theater, but isn’t a recipe for sustained NBA success. The Pistons did it Friday, overcoming a 23-point deficit to beat Phoenix in overtime, and promptly put themselves in a 20-point hole in Sunday’s first quarter. They finally got it under double digits late in the third quarter, closing it on an 8-0 run to pull within six points. It was still a six-point game midway through the fourth quarter but the Pistons went scoreless over five straight possessions .. That was the story of Sunday: subpar offense, frigid shooting. The Pistons struggled to score with only Jerami Grant immune. It wasn’t until late in the third quarter that a second Pistons player, rookie Saddiq Bey, got into double figures. Grant was superb again, scoring 20 or more points for the ninth straight game and finished with 28 points, but take out his 9 of 19 shooting and Pistons numbers (33 percent total, 29 percent minus Grant) look even worse. The Jazz not only opened the game on a 9-0 run, but once the Pistons appeared to stabilize themselves to pull within 15-12 Utah went on a 15-0 run and led by 20 points 10 minutes into the game. Grant scored 11 first-quarter points and hit 3 of 5 shots, but his teammates hit 3 of 17 shots and missed all seven of their 3-point tries. That was Sunday in a nutshell. It also didn’t help that the Pistons were dominated on the glass, 64-39, though the Pistons matched the Jazz in second-chance points with 13 and got off more shots largely because the Jazz committed 16 turnovers to Detroit’s eight. The Pistons played without their top two point guards – rookie Killian Hayes, who remains out with a right hip injury, and Derrick Rose, who sat with left knee soreness.
CENTER SWITCH – Isaiah Stewart didn’t play in the first two games but moved into the rotation when Jahlil Okafor suffered a sprained ankle and missed the third game. Stewart has been first off the bench behind Mason Plumlee since then, but over the past four games Casey has used all three of his centers in the first half. Three reasons for that, Casey said before tipoff with Utah. One is to keep Okafor part of the mix and in game condition. Two is to hasten the development of Stewart, a 19-year-old rookie taken with the 16th pick in November’s draft. And three is to keep Plumlee’s minutes down in the first half so Casey can use him a little more liberally in the second half. With the Pistons having two days off before their next game, Casey altered that strategy in Sunday’s first half. And it was Okafor, not Stewart, who was first off the bench behind Plumlee. When Plumlee picked up his third foul with a minute left in the half, Stewart came on only then. But when Plumlee picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter, it was Stewart who replaced him. Stewart wound up playing 14 minutes, including some solid ones in the second half when the Pistons pulled within six, and finished with two points, four rebounds, an assist, two steals and a blocked shot.
ROUGH PATCH – Dwane Casey wound up using three players at shooting guard in the first half against Utah but didn’t get much production out of the position. Josh Jackson returned Friday against Phoenix after missing two-plus games with a sprained ankle and he hasn’t been able to find the rhythm he was in pre-injury. After shooting 2 of 11 in a 19-minute stint against the Suns, Jackson went 0 of 5 in 14 minutes against Utah. Casey played Jackson for the first seven minutes on Sunday, taking him out with the Jazz in the midst of their 15-0 run. Svi Mykhailiuk came on for the next eight minutes, hitting 1 of 4 shots. Wayne Ellington took his place and missed all four of his shots, three of them from the 3-point line, in six minutes. Jackson returned for the final three minutes of the half and finished the half with two points and missing all four of his field-goal attempts. Mykhailiuk had an especially frustrating afternoon, hitting just 1 of 9 shots – all but one of his attempts from beyond the 3-point line. Ellington hit a big fourth-quarter triple to pull the Pistons within five with nine minutes to play and again he tripled – banked, no less – with 1:56 to go to get back to a five-point deficit. Ellington, Jackson and Mykhailiuk finished a combined 3 of 21 from the field even with Ellington hitting the last two shots taken by the trio.