Sekou & Svi stay ready, give Pistons a shot in narrow loss to Philly: ‘I loved to see that’
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Sekou Doumbouya and Svi Mykhailiuk have taken turns being the 11th man in a 10-man rotation this season. Saturday night, given opportunity by circumstance, they made the case to move up a rung or two in the pecking order.
“I loved to see that,” said a veteran whose feet have spent considerable time in similar shoes, Wayne Ellington. He didn’t play in five of the season’s first six games and Saturday he wrote a piece of Pistons history, hitting 4 of 6 from the 3-point arc to give him 21 triples made over the last four games, the best such four-game stretch the franchise has known.
“I was encouraging Svi all night tonight, just being able to come in and be prepared to play. It’s not an easy job. It’s not easy at all. To do that speaks about his professionalism and preparation. It’s a credit to his mentality. I see him every day, putting in the work. Eventually, it’s going to pay off.”
Mykhailiuk and Doumbouya weren’t the only ones among the Pistons Kiddie Corps to leave a mark on Saturday’s 114-110 loss to the team atop the Eastern Conference standings, Philadelphia.
Isaiah Stewart battled toe to toe with superstar Joel Embiid after Mason Plumlee fouled out in the fourth quarter and even came away with a patch of fabric from Dwight Howard’s shorts as a souvenir, ripped away when he was wrestling with him – and drawing a foul, and then a technical foul, against the future Hall of Famer.
Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose sat out to rest achy left knees on the second night of a back to back and that opened spots in the rotation. Saben Lee, the No. 38 overall draft pick in November, moved into Rose’s role as backup point guard and picked up four assists without a turnover in 12 minutes, making his only shot while defending responsibly.
Josh Jackson came off the bench to give the Pistons 11 points, four blocked shots and a pair of assists.
Those five – Jackson and Mykhailiuk, both 23; Lee, 21; Doumbouya, 20; and Stewart, 19 – were out as a unit to start the second quarter, making enough of a statement that 76ers coach Doc Rivers called a timeout a minute into the quarter. A team that might have been more at home playing in the Final Four wound up winning their minutes against the 76ers.
“I feel like everybody cares,” Mykhailiuk said. “Everybody played as hard as they can. Everybody is doing whatever Coach asks them to do. I feel like, for the whole game, we did everything we could to stay in the game and potentially win the game.”
Dwane Casey has preached readiness to a team with a lot of moving parts and many players – nine of them 23 or younger – still in some stages of development, still trying to find their niche. So for Mykhailiuk and Doumbouya, in and out of the rotation, to play with such assertiveness against such a quality opponent was especially encouraging.
“Our record stinks at 3 and 13 and I’m not here to lose,” Casey said. “But there’s a lot of growth, a lot of positive things with Sekou and Svi. I love the way those two came in.”
Doumbouya scored 13 points and took down four rebounds to go with an assist and a steal and zero turnovers in 19 minutes, running the floor, cutting opportunistically and defending well.
“Sekou, as far as not having the opportunity, it’s coming,” Casey said. “He’s going to be in this league a long time. … I’m happy and proud of him, the way he came in and played, defended, rebounded, was out there talking, leading in a positive way. The future’s going to be very bright for Sekou in this league.”
Mykhailiuk played 18 minutes and scored 15 points, hitting 3 of 4 shots, grabbing four rebounds and picking up three assists.
“If I don’t play, it’s more time to get better,” Mykhailiuk said of his approach to the uncertainty of playing time. “The time I don’t play, I go to the gym every day, put as much work as I can and be smart, as well.”
Stewart played 19 minutes and finished with eight points, five rebounds and two blocked shots while battling two of the game’s most decorated big men one night after frustrating DeMarcus Cousins.
“He’s a little undersized for a guy like Embiid – a lot of guys are,” Casey said of the 6-foot-9 teen. “You don’t have to worry about that young man scratching and clawing and fighting.”
Casey was still talking about Stewart as he continued, but his words could have applied to all of those Kiddie Corps members who made Saturday a fight to the final possession against a team that could be playing deep into summer.
“You never have to question his fight, his intensity,” he said. “He doesn’t back down from anybody. That’s what’s encouraging.”