Pistons wait for karma to even up the score after taking one on the chin vs. Bulls
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DETROIT – If you believe in karma, Dwane Casey and the Pistons are overdue to take shipment on a massive batch of good fortune at any minute.
The Pistons had Chicago on the ropes after the Bulls stormed the gates for a 15-point first-quarter lead, but when it came time to throw the haymaker Casey looked around and had only one of the five players he envisioned closing games at his disposal in Saturday’s 108-99 loss.
Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard missed another game due to injury and Andre Drummond got sent to an early shower when he was ejected less than two minutes into the third quarter for tossing a basketball at the back of Daniel Gafford’s head. Gafford earned a technical foul for his role in the incident – taunting Drummond and hollering in his ear after scoring over him.
So if you were clamoring for a Pistons youth movement, Saturday night was for you.
“Young guys are going to make mistakes,” Casey said. “It’s up to us as coaches to continue to teach and develop and keep their spirits up and make sure our foundation and culture of hard play stays intact.”
The Pistons made a batch of mistakes in that decisive first quarter. Without Griffin, Jackson and Rose, they don’t have the firepower to spot any team a double-digits lead. The Bulls essentially won the game with a 20-4 run that was sparked by a most unlikely source: little-used Bulls big man Luke Kornet, who went undrafted three years ago out of Vanderbilt.
Kornet didn’t play in the first three Pistons-Bulls matchups – with Saturday’s win, Chicago improbably swept the season series, leaving each team with identical 14-26 records – and came into the game shooting 34 percent overall and 26 percent from the 3-point arc.
So, of course, he hit his first five shots – two of them triples – and scored 12 first-quarter points, topping his previous season high of nine in less than seven minutes.
“Guys, they light up against us,” Langston Galloway said. “I don’t know what it is. I guess it’s the name across our chests right now. People are lighting up against us. It’s really tough to see that.”
Despite Kornet’s subpar shooting numbers this season, that’s what got him to the NBA. He was on the scouting report. The Pistons just didn’t react properly on their pick-and-roll coverages to give him openings to shoot, Casey said.
“Mistakes on the switches. Those are the things we’ve got to communicate. Got to talk. I take responsibility for that. Not teaching it well enough. We will continue to teach it.”
The frontcourt is now populated by the likes of Sekou Doumbouya, Christian Wood and Thon Maker, replacing the vast experience of Griffin, Markieff Morris – he returned after a seven-game injury absence but was clearly out of sync, missing all seven of his shots in 14 minutes – and Drummond after he was ejected with oodles of youth.
“Trying to find ways to put them in position that they can learn from, especially in practice,” Galloway said of the mid-season shift to lineups the Pistons didn’t expect to be using. “We’ve been learning toward, ‘All right, let’s go over the plays again. Let’s go over defensive assignments.’ Just to get those guys used to those different scenarios going forward for their development.”
The young guys – led by Rose, who finished with 20 points and seven assists in 29 minutes, shooting 7 of 11 – helped the Pistons claw back within two points with seven minutes left. But the Bulls had too many advantages and too much Zach LaVine, who finished with 25 points.
Doumbouya made his sixth straight start and led the starters in scoring with 12 points – another indication of the punch lost to injuries. He showed the flashes that had the Pistons feeling fortunate to get him at 15 on draft night, but trying to win games when you have the NBA’s youngest player in a critical role is complicated.
Casey found encouragement, though, in the way Doumbouya, Wood and Maker battled. Wood bounced back from a rough stretch of games with 17 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks; Maker had 10 points and two rebounds in 11 minutes.
“I was really proud of the way Sekou came in and competed,” Casey said. “He got in foul trouble a little bit, but still he was competing. Thon, Christian – all the young guys came in. You could see the growth in them.”
It wasn’t what Casey imagined would become the organization’s mission by mid-season, but that’s their current reality. Until karma decides to even up the score, at least.