Second-year Pistons Svi, Brown help get Pistons to OT – ‘I like the steps we’re taking’
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
DETROIT – Had this wave of injuries happened to the Pistons a year ago and necessitated the same heavy reliance on Bruce Brown and Svi Mykhailiuk then as now, Saturday’s game with Brooklyn never would have gotten to overtime.
So there’s that.
Doesn’t do much to ease the sting of the 121-111 loss in the moment – and instead of pulling within 1½ games of the Nets for the East’s last playoff berth, the Pistons left Little Caesars Arena 3½ games out of the postseason.
But like scrimping to put a few dollars in your retirement savings now, the payoff comes down the road. Or, at least, that’s the lifeline that keeps Dwane Casey from despair in a season that’s forced him to use an NBA high 22 different starting lineups.
The latest iteration came Saturday when the carousel returned Andre Drummond and Bruce Brown to the lineup but again left him without Reggie Jackson – held out of a back to back after returning only earlier this week from a 13-week injury absence – Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard and Tony Snell.
“That’s who we are,” Casey said of plugging second-year players Brown and Mykhailiuk and rookie Sekou Doumbouya into the starting lineup alongside veterans Andre Drummond and Derrick Rose. “We’re down – what? – four starters? It is what it is.”
Given their injury report and the fact it was a back to back against a rested team – and throw in the fact that Kyrie Irving detonated after halftime, when he scored 33 of his 45 points – it’s a minor miracle the Pistons weren’t run out of the gym.
“Kyrie Irving was having an out-of-body experience and knocking every shot down he took,” said Drummond, back after missing two games with facial injuries and still in need of oral surgery as a result of having a tooth dislodged on Monday at Washington. “It was kind of tough to defend that. I think we played hard and played great.”
“I thought our guys really, really competed at a high level on a back to back against one of the top scorers in the league,” Casey said. “And then put ourselves in a position to win.”
They might have, too, with just one other piece, one of those four missing starters to balance their lineup. They got 20 points and 21 rebounds from Drummond and 27 points from Rose. They got huge contributions from the two second-year players – 19 points, five boards and five assists from Mykhailiuk; 17 points, five rebounds and five assists from Brown, playing after missing the past two games with the flu and still feeling its effects.
“It hurts right now,” Casey said of the losing. “I’m telling you, I hate losing. But to see a kid like Bruce, second-round pick, Svi, second-round pick, second-year guys coming in and competing. … I like the steps we’re taking.”
“They’re playing with incredible confidence,” Drummond said. “Svi’s playing fantastic. He’s shooting the ball very well. Bruce has become one of the top-tier defenders in the league. I think the sky’s the limit for both of them. They’re playing really well.”
Brown, his voice still raspy from the flu, reflected on the growth he’s made over last season by way of remembering how the Nets defended him last season.
“They disrespected me last year,” he said. “That made me get in the gym and want to be better. They just sat in the paint last year. Today they tried to do the same thing, but it didn’t work.”
Brown hit 7 of 12 shots and 3 of 6 from the 3-point line. Brown went 42nd in the 2018 draft largely on his athleticism and projection as a top-rate defender. Mykhailiuk went five spots behind him almost exclusively for the potential of his 3-point shot. But he, too, showed the ways he’s grown by scoring four of his baskets around the rim while also hitting 3 of 8 triples.
“I told Svi today he looked like ‘Kansas’ Svi because he’s just playing well,” Brown said. “He’s shooting the ball, no hesitation. He’s not thinking; he’s just playing.”
Doumbouya, the league’s youngest player at 19 years 1 month, didn’t fare as well, going scoreless after getting a dunk attempt blocked by Jarrett Allen in the first minute. Since scoring 24 points at Boston last week, Doumbouya has scored 19 points and shot 6 of 28 over his last five games.
“Typical. Rookie wall,” Casey said. “I think he got a little rattled (by the dunk being blocked). You’ve got to go to the next play.”
Casey also used both rookie two-way players, Jordan Bone and Louis King, and the intent is to develop all three rookies so that a year from now they’ve taken the same leaps Brown and Mykhailiuk have executed.
“Sekou’s struggling a little bit right now, but he’s going to be a keeper,” Casey said. “Our young core is right there and we can take solace in that. It still hurts to lose if you’re a competitor. I told the guys that we’ll never get satisfied with losing because it’s hard to get out of your locker room, that stench. … We will take pride – not just me, our organization, will take pride in this at some point.”