Young Pistons catch Casey’s eye and ‘earn the right’ to finish OT loss to Pelicans

DETROIT – With his chances to field a playoff team precipitously slashed as the Pistons injured list swelled, Dwane Casey is focused on fielding a team that reflects his insistence on honoring a commitment to hard play.

And that – not a full-on commitment to a youth movement – explained why Sekou Doumbouya, Christian Wood, Svi Mykhailiuk and Bruce Brown joined veterans Derrick Rose and Langston Galloway to consume most of the available fourth-quarter and overtime minutes in Monday’s 117-110 loss to New Orleans.

“That group that was in there earned the right to finish the game,” Casey said. “I thought they played with the right purpose, the right sense of urgency.”

Conspicuously missing for the game’s final 20-plus minutes was Andre Drummond, but Casey said he wasn’t firing a shot across anyone’s bow.

“There’s no message. The message is the fact that guys in there at the end played hard – to everybody. Not just Andre. Everybody that wasn’t in there at the end, those guys came in and competed, earning the right to finish the game. We were just trying to find five or six men to go in and compete and play hard. Because that’s going to have to be who we are from here on as long as we’re here – a hard-playing team.”

That young core dug the Pistons out of a 16-point hole in the last 11 minutes of regulation and had a chance to reprise their Dec. 9 win at New Orleans when Rose’s basket at the buzzer broke a tie. This time, Rose missed a 9-foot turnaround shot from the right side.

“It still hurts, but I’m going with D-Rose taking the last-second shot 10 times out of 10,” Wood said. “He gets a look like that, I think he’s going to convert it. The fourth quarter, that five that played, played hard, played with energy.”

Wood played just five first-half minutes, pulled by Casey after making two defensive gaffes. But he redeemed himself in the second half – it was Wood who guarded Jahlil Okafor, who scored 19 of his 25 in the first half, for much of the second – to finish with 18 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

Doumbouya matched his previous high with 16 points, making his seventh consecutive start after receiving only garbage-time minutes prior to that. He also pulled down eight rebounds and, perhaps most noteworthy, spent much of the fourth quarter and overtime guarding Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball – a sure sign that he’s already shown Casey an eyeful on the defensive end.

“He’s showing he can guard threes, fours, now ones,” Casey said. “We put him on Ball at the end because Derrick’s minutes were high. The young fella is earning his minutes. We’ve got to develop him. That’s where we are right now.”

Doumbouya hit 6 of 9 shots and half of his four 3-point attempts. He got the Pistons on the board in overtime with a feathery baseline floater from 12 feet, giving Rose a good target by coming from the corner to meet the pass as Rose penetrated.

“He’s a great cutter,” Galloway said. “He’s just a natural cutter. A lot of teams, they start watching the ball, he cuts behind them and he’s able to get to the basket. And he’s been knocking down the three.”

The Pistons got another of their young players his most significant run yet. Jordan Bone, who had played a total of six minutes at the ends of three games, came on late in the first quarter for an eight-minute stint. He missed his only two shots – one a triple, one a mid-range jump shot – but picked up three assists.

“I wanted to give him a look,” Casey said. “He’s a part of our young core that’s going to be around. He was timid; he was tight. I told him to relax and play basketball just like he would be playing down at Knoxville,” a reference to Bone’s college roots at Tennessee.

Casey is going to coach the season’s final 41 games to win every time, but he’s also going to broaden the opportunities for the players he knows are going to be at the center of Pistons rosters in the future.

As long as they play with the level of fight they exhibited on Monday, at least.

“I thought the group that was in there at the end, our young group – Christian, Sekou with Derrick – really competed their behind off,” Casey said. “That’s what we take away from that.”