Three quick observations from Monday night’s 122-104 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena
BIG VOID – Missing arguably their two best players – No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham and leading scorer Jerami Grant – wasn’t the formula the Pistons required to break out of their early-season scoring doldrums. Averaging 85 points a game, last in the NBA, through two games the Pistons showed some flashes of improvement but again had too many unproductive stretches and too many costly turnovers against a Hawks team coming off a conference finals appearance. The Pistons were within seven late in the third quarter when Atlanta called timeout and responded with triples on consecutive possessions from bench players Cam Reddish, Lou Williams and Gorgui Dieng to balloon the lead to 16. Kelly Olynyk and Saddiq Bey scored 21 apiece to lead the Pistons. All-Star Trae Young led the Hawks with 32 points and nine assists. With Grant missing the game with an elbow injury – it’s an infection and he was listed as questionable and not ruled out until an hour before tipoff – Dwane Casey opted to shake up the starting lineup by moving Olynyk in at power forward, playing alongside Isaiah Stewart instead of coming off the bench behind him, and Josh Jackson at shooting guard, where Frank Jackson has started while Cade Cunningham remains out with an ankle injury. Olynyk and Josh Jackson combined for the first 16 Pistons points.
HAYES COMES ALIVE – After scoring two points on 1 of 11 shooting over the season’s first two games, Killian Hayes experienced a scoreless first quarter but gained some traction in a nine-point second quarter on his way to a 12-point, zero-turnover outing. Hayes hit a triple from the top, knocked down a pair of free throws after capped his second-quarter burst with a pair of mid-range jump shots. Hayes figures to benefit as much or more than anyone from Cunningham’s return, affording him the opportunity to play off of the ball a little more. He enjoyed some of his best rookie moments in that capacity, mostly when he played with fellow 2020 draft pick Saben Lee. Hayes hit another triple in the third quarter and probed the lane successfully a few times, including once when he hit Isaiah Stewart with a lob for an easy basket. Hayes only played the first 8:30 of the second half as Dwane Casey gave time to Lee to close out the game.
NO MARGIN FOR ERROR – A team averaging 85 points and playing without its leading scorer doesn’t have much wiggle room, especially going up against one of the East’s anticipated top seeds. The Pistons, who averaged 20 turnovers in a pair of season-opening losses to Chicago, coughed it up a more manageable 14 times against Atlanta – but it led to 22 Atlanta points. More than the number was the timing of some of those. The Pistons trailed just 23-18 in the final seconds of the first quarter when Atlanta strung together three offensive rebounds on a possession punctuated by a Lou Williams fadeaway with 12 seconds left. The Pistons, rushing to get off a shot, turned it over with four seconds to play when rookie Luka Garza stepped on the sideline. The Hawks rushed it back upcourt and got a 30-foot banked triple at the buzzer from Cam Reddish to take a 10-point lead. Late in the second quarter, Trae Young stripped Kelly Olynk to complete a 7-0 Hawks run to more than double what was a six-point lead. Then two more turnovers led to Atlanta 3-pointers – a Saddiq Bey outlet pass with the Pistons again within seven turned into a Bogdan Bogdanovic triple and a Young triple came when he stripped Isaiah Stewart’s defensive rebound under the Atlanta basket, dribbled out to the 3-point line and scored to give Atlanta a 10-point lead.