Shorthanded and exuberantly youthful, Pistons play OKC tough and absorb a lesson
OKLAHOMA CITY – Dwane Casey made clear before the first Pistons game of the post-Andre Drummond era that he would be coaching every last one of the final 29 to win.
And that’s what he did in Friday’s 108-101 loss at Oklahoma City despite the Pistons being down to nine healthy bodies, two of them belonging to two-way players Jordan Bone and Louis King and a third to 19-year-old rookie Sekou Doumbouya. Less than two months ago, they were the heart of the Grand Rapids Drive lineup.
So Casey knows the reality and he also knows there is much to be gained even in losses. So at least in that regard, the Pistons left the Oklahoma plains with something of value.
“I felt like everybody, from one through all the guys we had, everybody played hard,” Christian Wood said. “We came in and played with energy. Guys were diving on the floor. You can’t teach effort, so I feel like we did a good job with that.”
Wood started at power forward but split time over the two power positions as Casey had to make do with a skeleton crew. The two players the Pistons got back from Cleveland for Drummond – John Henson and Brandon Knight – were back in Detroit and six others were missing with injury or illness.
And yet there the Pistons were – against a team in playoff position in the West and with all but one player available – within four points in the final minutes.
“I thought the intensity was there,” Casey said. “The focus. Guys continued to play hard. That’s all you can ask.”
Wood and Maker filled Drummond’s statistical void: Wood finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in a season-high 35 minutes; Maker with 19 points and seven rebounds in nearly 34 minutes. They committed a single turnover apiece and held their own – or came as reasonably close as anyone could have expected – against the monstrously strong Steven Adams.
“Adams is a beast in there,” Casey said. “But those 50-50 balls rattling around on the floor, we’ve got to come up with those. You’ve got to enjoy contact in this game. It’s a game that is flesh on flesh. You’ve got to enjoy hitting first and that’s what we’ve got to get to.”
The Pistons just didn’t have enough firepower, needing a 33-point fourth quarter to crest 100. They shot just 42.7 percent overall and 28.9 percent from the 3-point arc, a figure not helped any by having two of their best perimeter shooters – Langston Galloway (0 of 5) and Tony Snell (1 of 6) – have subpar games.
Reggie Jackson, returning to the only other place he’s called home in the NBA, scored 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Pistons close after they fell behind by 13 late in the third quarter. Maybe more notable was Jackson’s apparent embrace of a mentorship role one day after getting knocked back by the departure of his friend, Drummond, whose exit leaves Jackson as the longest tenured Piston.
“We played hard,” he said. “Got a lot of young guys. I just keep harping to ’em that in this league, you’ve got to go out there and play free, play your game and just make aggressive mistakes. I think that’s the same thing Coach is harping on ’em about: You’re going to make mistakes, but you’ve got to make aggressive mistakes. Go out and have fun and, remember, it’s the game that you love.”
The NBA schedule maker did the Pistons no favors, giving them their second back to back in six days just two days after the trade deadline – and off of a two-hour flight when they lost an hour in the air by flying back to the Eastern time zone.
But that, too, will be embraced as another learning experience for the young players suddenly thrust to the forefront for a franchise that has acknowledged it faces a rebuilding effort. That’s as important as anything over the final 10 weeks of the season.
“We all hate losing. Myself, I hate losing without trying,” Jackson said. “That’s the biggest thing. I feel like teams that play hard in the league, you’re going to have about 35 wins. Teams that play hard and know how to play, you’re going to have about 40. Guys with talent, it just keeps going up. So the first thing we’re trying to build is a foundation of playing hard.
“Just trying to pass on the knowledge that was given to me from my vets down to these guys. I just want to see them succeed. I’m trying to be a teacher on the court – really trying to teach these guys and teach ’em on the fly.”