Pistons youth shows in late-game miscues as Dallas closes strong to eke out a win
Nic Antaya (NBAe via Getty Images)
Twice in the final four minutes Thursday night, Isaiah Stewart sent electric signals about the heights his future might scale, draining clutch 3-pointers to each time put the Pistons ahead by a point. Twice the Pistons ceded the lead by seconds later committing a cardinal sin: fouling a 3-point shooter.
“We just have to play better defense,” Stewart said. “We made the big shot, but we have to come back down and get the stop and know the guy they’re going to. We’ve just got to key in and make sure we don’t mess up.”
It wasn’t just any 3-point shooter they fouled, either, but ex-Michigan star Tim Hardaway Jr. on a night he carried the Dallas Mavericks to a win they couldn’t afford to leave Little Caesars Arena without.
Hardaway was perfect at the line, hitting 10 of 10, and he twice put the Mavericks on top by two points after the Pistons sent him there for three pressure-filled free throws. His triple with 1:05 to play – his sixth in 10 attempts – gave Dallas a 109-105 lead. Hardaway scored 17 of his 42 in the fourth quarter.
It was Stewart, 19, who fouled Hardaway the first time and Hamidou Diallo, 22, who got him the second time, each barreling into him in well-intentioned if frantic efforts to distract the shooter.
“Down the stretch, that’s where the mistakes were made and that’s where young players make young mistakes,” Dwane Casey said after Dallas closed the game on an 11-1 run to win 115-105. “It’s a great experience for them. They’ll grow from them and we’ll be better off down the road. It hurts. It stings because they competed their butts off down the stretch.”
The Pistons were without starters Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Cory Joseph plus Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder and Dennis Smith Jr., the Mavs – fighting to avoid the Western Conference’s play-in round – minus All-Star Luka Doncic and Dorian Finney-Smith. Hardaway finished with 42 points, 17 in the fourth quarter. He gave Dallas the lead for good at 106-104 and the huge triple on the next Mavs possession.
“It’s tough,” Pistons rookie Saddiq Bey, who has emerged as one of the NBA’s top young 3-point shooters this season and hit 4 of 8 Thursday in an 18-point, eight-rebound game. “You want to run a good 3-point shooter off the line, but you also want to have a controlled closeout. It’s hard. He’s a good basketball player, but we try to play hard.”
There was no quibble with the effort level, which is a dominant theme of the season. But the Pistons only outscored Dallas 23-22 at the foul line despite getting 11 more free throws and their 18 turnovers were six more than the Mavericks.
“Free throws were horrible,” Casey said. “We’ve got to be a better free-throw shooting team. That’s a free shot. And 18 turnovers. But everything else – compete level – was off the charts.”
So was Stewart, who recorded a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds while blocking three shots and all but shrinking the towering Kristaps Porzingis, Willie Cauley-Stein and Boban Marjanovic. Stewart had blocks of both the 7-foot-4 Porzingis and 7-foot-5 Marjanovic and hit 9 of 14 shots, including those two huge late triples.
“He works hard every day before and after practice and watches a lot of film,” Bey said of his fellow rookie. “He’s growing into himself and getting better each and every day. The confidence is always there. He’s just taking advantage of the opportunity.”
The third Pistons first-round rookie, Killian Hayes, recorded 11 assists – besting his previous career high, set 10 days ago, by two – in 30 minutes.
“I think the summer will be great for him, being in the weight room,” Casey said of Hayes, who missed three months with a hip injury before returning earlier this month. “The conditioning program we’ll have for him will be great. The young man has great instincts passing the ball.”
Their instincts and intentions are beyond questioning. Once Casey can stop using “inexperienced” as a descriptive for so many of his players, the results, he trusts, will turn.
“That tells on you,” he said. “All those things, they come to a head in a tight situation in the fourth quarter. You wish you could jump out there and help them and tell them exactly what to do. Only Father Time will help in those situations.”