‘We were diving on that floor’ – Minus 2 starters, Pistons pull out another road win
Rocky Widner (NBAE via Getty Images)
The Sacramento Kings made a deal with the Pistons last month to strengthen their backcourt for a playoff push. The Pistons dealt that push a blow Thursday night – thanks mostly to the performance of their backcourt. The irony of that might be lost on the Kings, but the sting will endure.
Cory Joseph – the guy Sacramento sent to Detroit in the deal to upgrade with Delon Wright, sweetening the pot with two second-round picks – helped the Pistons build an 18-point halftime lead and then repelled any chance of a Kings comeback with three big baskets down the stretch when Sacramento cut its deficit to single digits. Joseph finished with 24 points and seven assists and hit 10 of 14 shots as the Pistons notched a 113-101 win.
Oh, yeah, they did it without leading scorer Jerami Grant and rock-steady center Mason Plumlee.
“We had a couple of guys out and Coach decided to start me,” said Joseph, who outscored Wright 24-5. “Obviously, playing against my former team, you want to get the W. Just happy we did that. We had a complete game. Defensively, we were great. They’re a good offensive team. One through 12, 15, everybody was engaged and together.”
Joseph wasn’t the only Pistons point guard to leave his fingerprints on this win, the second in three games of a road trip that wraps up with a weekend back to back against Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers. Rookie Killian Hayes, in just his third game back after a three-month absence with a hip injury that occurred in his seventh career game, put together his second extremely encouraging performance in a row. Hayes finished with 11 points, hitting 5 of 7 shots, and his two assists don’t tell the story of the way he orchestrated the offense in his 21 minutes. Hayes led the Pistons in plus/minus at a plus 12.
“He’s already great at making reads,” Joseph said of the 19-year-old Hayes. “I just try to tell him to be decisive when he gets off pick and roll, go downhill. He’s naturally going to read them like a book. That’s what he does a great job of.”
The Pistons got off to a good start despite the absence of Grant and Plumlee, led by four after a quarter and played a dominant second quarter, outscoring the Kings 35-21. And Hayes wasn’t the only 19-year-old to make an impact on the win.
“I thought it was very important we got out from the start and throw the first punch,” said Plumlee’s stand-in at center, Isaiah Stewart, who established career highs in minutes (33) and rebounds (13) and was one off in points (16) while contributing four of the team’s 24 assists. “Just play hard throughout the game. We were diving on that floor in the first quarter. That’s the way we’ve got to be every game.”
That’s what Casey saw, too, and what he loves about this team. Loaded with young players and saddled with a 16-36 record, the Pistons don’t give anyone a night off.
“The one thing the guys set the tone in the first quarter was our fight and our intensity,” he said. “A few plays that happened in the first quarter not on the stat sheet but the two dives by Saddiq (Bey) and Dennis (Smith Jr.). The second thing that happened was our ball movement. The ball didn’t stick. That ball was what helped us win. The diving on the floor, getting the lose balls, the attention to detail defensively set the tone.”
Without Grant to shoulder the scoring burden, the Pistons spread the wealth and that promoted the ball movement. Seven players finished in double figures, three of them off the bench. And with Plumlee missing – the result of a concussion suffered in Denver on Tuesday when he collided with Bey – the return of center Jahlil Okafor couldn’t have been timed any better. Coming back after surgery in early February to clean up knee cartilage, Okafor scored a season-high 11 points in 15 minutes.
Casey, nodding to the reality of the Pistons timeline, was tickled to get the win but even more pleased that without Grant, who sat out with knee soreness, and Plumlee as bellwethers the players in their stead had to broaden their horizons down the stretch.
“I aged probably about 10 days down the stretch,” he said. “These guys are in a new role as far as closing tough games. That’s where you really miss Mason and Jerami. Who is your go-to? Who’s going to get that tough shot, take care of the ball, make good decisions with the ball? That is why those are learning. Hopefully, by this time next year, they’ll be in these situations multiple times and they’ll learn from it.”