A tale of 2 point guards: Pistons past haunts them on a night their point guard of the future earns the closer’s role

Killian Hayes
Killian Hayes finished with 8 points and 6 assists and was on the floor for the game’s final 16 minutes as the Pistons lost a heartbreaker to the Clippers
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The Pistons rolled down the stretch with their point guard of the future and got beat by their point guard of the past. In a season they’ll measure in ways beyond wins and losses, Wednesday stirred a strange brew of emotions, hope mingling with despair as an 11-point lead melted in the final minutes and was wiped out altogether in a gutting final 20 seconds.

If there’s a lesson in there, it’s that experience is about learning as much from your failures as your successes.

“We’re learning. We’ll grow from that,” Jerami Grant, returning after a three-game absence, said after scoring 28 points in the 100-98 loss. “We’ve got to do better. I’ve got to do better.”

Pistons rookie Killian Hayes, robbed of 41 games by an early-January hip injury, was given a cram course in the cauldron of the fourth quarter. He entered the game with 4:22 left in the third quarter, the Pistons ahead 65-63 at the time, and it was at his direction that the lead expanded to 11 over the next 12 minutes.

“That’s why I did it,” Dwane Casey said of leaving his rookie on the floor with a game in the balance. “That’s what this year is about – as much as I hate losing. He had a good run going. For him to have that, down the road it’s going to be invaluable. And he earned it. He made some nice plays to get to that point. It was a great experience for him.”

“Killian didn’t really get a chance to get acclimated early in the season,” Grant said. “So now he’s getting more acclimated and he’s growing. He’s been watching the game, working extremely hard and we’re seeing him growing as a player right now.”

The Clippers – playing without superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and also missing Marcus Morris, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Beverly – leaned on the guy who not so long ago was the point guard the Pistons hoped would re-establish their place among the NBA elite, Reggie Jackson.

Two critical Pistons turnovers in the last 30 seconds led to two Jackson baskets – a tying triple with 19 seconds left and the game-winner with 2.8 seconds on the clock.

“We haven’t done a good job the last two or three games of closing quarters,” Casey said. “Same thing tonight. Somehow, some way, we’ve got to find the focus and the intensity and the discipline to close out quarters. That’s what tomorrow is going to be about – teaching.”

Hayes wasn’t the only Pistons rookie to play a significant role in Wednesday’s heartbreaker. Saddiq Bey tacked on four more 3-pointers – in seven attempts – to his NBA rookie-leading total, now up to 124 for the season, and finished with 17 points and five rebounds. Isaiah Stewart racked up 12 points and eight boards in 22 minutes.

“I feel like coach Casey is giving us a lot of different great learning experiences that’s going to help us down the line,” Stewart said. “We’ve experienced that in our rookie year.”

Hayes, playing in his fifth game since returning earlier this month after a three-month absence, put the toolkit that has the Pistons so excited about his future on display.

On a night the Pistons shot just 29 percent from the 3-point arc and 43.5 percent overall, Hayes’ six assists could have been doubled with better shooting. Half of those came in the fourth quarter, including a dazzling find of Stewart for a dunk. He also showed off a nice hesitation move to score off a pick and roll and finished with eight points on 4 of 10 shooting to go with the half-dozen assists and three rebounds.

Casey didn’t have it predetermined that Hayes would finish, but he saw enough moxie from the rookie as he helped build the lead to give him the chance to close it out.

“I could have easily taken him out and put Cory (Joseph) in,” Casey said. “But tonight was for him to understand how it feels in those close games, understand reads in pick and roll, understand where his openings are under pressure. It’s easy when the game is free flowing, but when it gets tight … tonight was a good learning experience.”

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