A tough day turns into a long night as Pistons get Milwaukee’s full-force assault
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
The Pistons ended Wednesday’s third quarter and opened the fourth with a lineup that in any other season might have been the lineup you would have expected next season’s Motor City Cruise to field.
That’s the G League team that will play on a new arena under construction on the Wayne State campus, if you weren’t aware of them. But there was no such anonymity for the Pistons youth in which to toil on this night when one of the NBA’s presumptive title contenders offered nowhere to hide.
Yes, the Pistons are committed to developing the many young players they flooded their roster with in an off-season that saw 11 new faces added. No, the youth movement in Milwaukee wasn’t fully by design.
A day that began with the sobering news of a torn labrum in rookie Killian Hayes’ right hip and saw Derrick Rose head to the locker room before halftime with a right knee contusion necessitated some improvisation from Pistons coach Dwane Casey.
The loss of two of the three point guards on the 15-man roster meant the NBA debut of second-round pick Saben Lee, 21 and playing on a two-way contract, midway through the third quarter. He was among a lineup that included fellow rookies Isaiah Stewart (19) and Saddiq Bey (21), 20-year-old Sekou Doumbouya and the old man of the group, third-year pro and 23-year-old Svi Mykhailiuk.
That wasn’t the way Lee, one of the four rookies new Pistons general manager Troy Weaver maneuvered to pick up on draft night, wanted his debut to come – at the expense of his fellow rookie, Hayes.
“I don’t wish that on anybody,” Lee said of Hayes’ misfortune. “I wish him a speedy recovery and I wish he could be out there with us. I guess when my name is called, that’s when I go out there and perform.”
The game began with each team taking a knee and an intentional eight-second violation. Casey said it was out of respect for the family of Jacob Blake, the Milwaukee-area resident who was shot by Kenosha police this summer, the incident that sparked a response from NBA players – and athletes across multiple professional leagues – during the Orlando bubble and resulted in the postponement of games while calling for a meaningful national discourse on racial inequality and injustice.
(Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer) and I talked about it before the game,” Casey said. “They decided they were going to have that as a demonstration for his family. Thought it was appropriate. Guys still had to come out and play the game, but they wanted to show a sign of unity and support for the family.”
Casey spoke before the game – referencing the anarchy that engulfed the United States Capitol building – about the task of being a professional and playing through the roiling emotions caused by the unsettling scene in Washington.
“It was malicious. It was dangerous. It’s a huge attack on our democracy,” Casey said. “That is concerning, far more dangerous and more important than basketball. Our players were talking about it in the locker room. It shouldn’t affect them. They still have a job to do, but in the back of our mind, once the game is over, it’s concerning. It’s a sad day for our country.”
Once the successive violations were out of the way, the Bucks played a nearly flawless first half, rolling to an 82-56 lead. And they were just as scorching to open the third quarter, opening the lead to 34 at one point for a team whose three wins before Monday’s 10-point decision over the Pistons came by an average of 39 points.
“It could have been,” Casey said on whether the sluggish start was the result of a disorienting day. “I don’t know. I know we didn’t have the right approach to start the game or to start the third quarter. That was concerning.”
As they have all season, the Pistons – now 1-7 after using a Delon Wright-Wayne Ellington starting backcourt to account for the absences of Hayes and Josh Jackson, who missed a second straight game with an ankle injury – played to the final buzzer, outscoring the Bucks 59-48 in the second half. Jerami Grant scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, going 11 of 11 at the foul line. Bey finished with a double-double, 20 points and 10 rebounds, and tied Allan Houston’s 27-year-old franchise record for a rookie by making six 3-pointers.
“It’s a credit to our coaching staff,” Bey, who hit five triples in a game last week, said of his acclimation to the NBA. “The organization, the players, the vets, young guys – everybody, from top to bottom. We had a short training camp. Threw us into the fire early, which was good. Just day by day, continue to go through the experiences and continue to work and try to get better each and every day.”
“Those two guys, offensively, were very efficient,” Casey said of Grant and Bey. “What we need from both of them. Really happy for Saddiq, the way he shot the ball. Plus he had 10 rebounds, too, which is an all-around game for a rookie – or a veteran player. I’ll take that from a veteran player.”
The way the season has gone so far, he’ll probably have to take a lot of games from the kids who in another season might have been playing more for the G League affiliate than the Pistons.