‘We’ve got to give these young guys experience’ – Pistons lose late on costly mistakes
Ron Hoskins (NBAE/Getty)
There’s no confusion about the importance of the rookies and assorted other young players – 11 of them 24 or younger – to the future of the Pistons. If there were, look at how Dwane Casey handled his substitutions in a game that was within their grasp on Saturday to clear it up.
To finish a three-game road trip that began with Casey’s team looking uncharacteristically sluggish amid a season the one thing they’ve done consistently is to play hard, the veterans showed the next generation of Pistons how to grind one out and put them in position to win against a short-handed but desperate Indiana team fighting for a playoff spot.
In another season, one where the goals were a little different, those veterans would have been in for the final seven or eight minutes to get the ball across the goal line. But in this season – where exposing 19-year-olds like Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart to as many pressure-packed situations as possible over the season’s final dozen games is now of paramount importance – Casey instead left veterans Cory Joseph and Mason Plumlee on the bench even as Indiana wiped out a four-point Pistons lead.
It wasn’t until 3:40 remained that Casey brought Joseph and Plumlee back for his two teenagers.
“They probably would’ve come back a lot earlier,” Casey said. “Especially when they went to a zone. We would have had more shooters out there. But we’ve got to give these young guys experience. That’s the kind of season we have as far as developing.”
Adjusting to the NBA is one thing – and learning how to slow the game down in the final five minutes when every possession carries outsized importance is another.
“It’s a learning experience,” said Jerami Grant, who led the Pistons with 25 points. “This whole year, we’ve been learning. We’re getting better, slowly but surely. They’ve got to be out there in order to know what to do.”
Ultimately, it was too many mistakes – by everyone, but mostly by the young players – that buried the Pistons in their 115-109 loss. A 62-39 rebounding edge – largely enabled by the fact Indiana was without starting big men Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner and second-year backup Goga Bitadze – was wiped out by an 18-5 disparity in turnovers.
“You look back on this next year and wished you’d have left the young guys out there,” Casey said, anticipating the dividends that he can cash when his four rookies apply the tough lessons of this season in 2021-22 and beyond. “Most of the turnovers were their turnovers. It’s about teaching, learning, staying upbeat and positive.”
Two of the five steals by notorious pest T.J. McConnell came in the final five minutes, one victimizing Hayes, one Plumlee. The first came when McConnell just wrested the basketball away form Hayes’ grasp, sparking a transition opportunity converted into a layup by Caris LeVert to put Indiana ahead 104-101 with 3:40 to play. That prompted a Pistons timeout and Casey to bring Plumlee and Joseph back with Indiana amid a 12-0 run that began at the five-minute mark.
The veterans were having big nights, too, Plumlee especially. He wound up with 17 points on 7 of 9 shooting and a career-high 21 rebounds plus five assists and two blocks.
“Mason got us started from the beginning with his energy, his rebounding and toughness,” Casey said. “He’s one of the relentless rebounders we have in this game.”
Joseph had 12 points, four assists and only one of the Pistons 18 turnovers in his 30 minutes at the point. Hayes committed five turnovers in his 18 minutes. Josh Jackson, 24, and Hamidou Diallo, 22, were responsible for three apiece.
“That’s the difference – 18 turnovers for 22 points. That’s the ballgame,” Casey said. “You can look at a lot of things – the rebounding advantage – but when you give that many opportunities for them or transition buckets … some of them are unconscionable as far as the decisions with the ball. We’ve got to learn.”
And that, as much as anything, was the mission of this season – and, surely, it’s the overriding objective of the home stretch of the season with three weeks to go.
“We’ve got a lot of talented young guys – Saddiq (Bey), Killian, Isaiah, Saben (Lee),” Grant said. “When they step on the court, they’re ready to play. They’ve got a great mentality. We’ve got to keep giving them experience so next year we hit the ground running.”