Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 117-89 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at Little Caesars Arena
GROWING PAINS – It looked like a game Dwane Casey’s young team might steal when the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks showed up at Little Caesars Arena without a healthy segment of the roster that made the title run possible. No Khris Middleton, no Jrue Holiday, no Brook Lopez. But no matter who’s wearing the other uniform, the Pistons have to shoot the basketball better than they did in the season’s seventh game: 32 percent overall, 17 percent from the 3-point arc, 70 percent from the foul line. They fell down by 18 points at halftime by shooting just 34 percent overall and 22 percent from the 3-point line in a first half in which Jerami Grant scored 14 points and hit 3 of 4 from three while the other four starters – 20-year-olds Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart plus Saddiq Bey, 22 and in his second season – combined for eight points on 4 of 18 shooting with half the points coming on two Isaiah Stewart layups. The Pistons, with the fewest combined points from their starters among the NBA’s 30 teams, finished with 44 points from their starters, 21 of those coming from Grant in just 24 minutes. Grant hit 4 of 8 from the 3-point line; the rest of the team was 4 of 39. Saddiq Bey missed his first nine shots before scoring at the rim late in the third quarter and finished 2 of 13. Cade Cunningham was 2 of 14.
A LITTLE MORE CADE – Cade Cunningham played 19 minutes in his debut on Saturday and was held out of Sunday’s game at Brooklyn in light of the month missed with an ankle injury, but there were no minutes restrictions on him for his second game. It looks like he’s going to need to stack up a few more of those minutes, though, to overcome the head start he gave the rest of the NBA by missing nearly all of training camp and the preseason plus the first four regular-season games. Cunningham went 1 of 8 from the field and 0 of 5 from the 3-point line in his debut and followed up by shooting 2 of 14 and 0 of 9 from the 3-point line in 29 minutes against Milwaukee. He hit a 17-footer in the first half and scored on a deft floater to open second-half scoring. He got to the foul line for the first time in two games in the fourth quarter with a strong move to draw a foul against Giannis Antetokoumpo, who’d already blocked four shots. Cunningham finished with six points, two rebounds and three assists. When Cunningham re-entered the game early in the second quarter, he did so as the point guard playing alongside Frank Jackson instead of playing off the ball or sharing primary playmaking duties with Killian Hayes, as he did almost exclusively in his debut. Dwane Casey used the same pattern again in he second half, giving Cunningham a few more minutes as the primary playmaker. Cunningham’s passing and playmaking vision were on display a few times, including a behind-the-back pass that was effective more than flashy to find Jerami Grant for an open 3-pointer and a needle-threading pass through the paint to find Isaiah Stewart for a layup that was blocked. He ran a nice pick and roll with Stewart, feeding him for a layup.
NICE FINDS – Troy Weaver had a much quieter second off-season than he did in his whirlwind first as Pistons general manager, but it looks like he got two value signings in free agents Kelly Olynyk and Trey Lyles. Olynyk, coming off a big second half of the season at Houston, doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He came in Tuesday’s game averaging 13.7 points even if he hasn’t come close to his career 3-point mark of .366, hitting at just a .304 clip before going 0 of 2 against the Bucks. Lyles, who was in and out of the rotation in Denver and San Antonio in recent seasons, has flourished to date as backup to Jerami Grant and mainstay of a second unit that came in second to Miami in points per game. He’s the bigger surprise. Lyles came into the game shooting 40 percent from the 3-point arc and even though he went 2 of 8 against the Bucks, Lyles still contributed 13 points and seven rebounds in 18:30 of playing time.