Pistons hang close for 3 quarters, see it slip away in the fourth at Denver
Garrett Ellwood (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 115-98 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center
29 AND COUNTING – In their 60th game, the Pistons broke out their NBA-high 29th different starting lineup. After two sluggish starts coming out of the All-Star break, Dwane Casey hinted at lineup changes following Sunday’s 107-104 loss at Portland in which the Pistons fell 19 points down in the first quarter. In were Christian Wood and John Henson, out were Thon Maker and Sekou Doumbouya. Dwane Casey wound up using all 12 of his available players by the mid-point of the second quarter as the Pistons avoided the big early deficit but couldn’t sidestep a seventh straight loss. Denver led pretty much the entire game but could never shake the Pistons – who trailed by six after one quarter, by 13 at halftime and by 10 after three quarters – until a 9-0 run early in the fourth quarter gave Denver an 18-point cushion. Derrick Rose scored 20 points (20 pints, five assists) for the first time in five games after doing so for a career-high 14 consecutive games. Christian Wood finished with 20 points and nine rebounds. Quality of shots was a deciding factor. The Nuggets did nearly twice as much damage in the paint as the Pistons, scoring 60 points on 49 shots to 32 Pistons points on 31 paint shots. Jeremi Grant scored a career-high 29 off of Denver’s bench.
BROWN DOWN – The Pistons played without Bruce Brown due to left knee soreness, causing further shuffling of their perimeter group. Derrick Rose started at point guard and Brandon Knight was first off the bench to replace him, but late in the first quarter Derrick Walton Jr. made his Pistons debut and Knight moved to shooting guard. Walton wound up sharing the court with Denver backup point guard Monte Morris, not the first time their paths have crossed. Morris narrowly won Mr. Basketball in Michigan in 2013 over Walton, Morris playing for Flint Beecher and Walton for Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy. Walton played five first-half minutes, picking up an assist while missing his only shot, a 3-pointer, then returned to play the last two minutes. The game also featured the return of Khyri Thomas, out since early November with a foot injury. Thomas, who logged two rehab games with the Grand Rapids Drive over the weekend and joined the Pistons in time to practice in Denver on Monday, entered early in the second quarter at small forward, giving up 7 inches in his matchup with Michael Porter Jr. He shifted to shooting guard after a few possessions, winding up with 14 minutes. Thomas missed his first three shots, two of them triples, before draining a 3-pointer in the final minute.
HALL MONITOR – In addition to Walton, Donta Hall – like Walton, signed last week to a 10-day contract – also made his Pistons debut. Hall, who went undrafted out of Alabama last season, has been a mainstay for the Grand Rapids Drive this season with rebounding, rim protection and energy his calling cards. He was as advertised. The first thing you notice with Hall if how light on his feet he is and how quickly he gets from Point A to Point B, whether that’s laterally or vertically. Hall played center, kicking Christian Wood over to power forward, and picked up two points and two rebounds in his six first-half minutes. Hall got a quicker call in the second half, replacing John Henson midway through the third quarter at a time when Thon Maker was inserted in the first half. He finished with four rebounds and four points in 14 minutes.