Three quick observations from Friday night’s 105-102 loss to the Golden State Warriors at Little Caesars Arena
SUPER POWERS – Isaiah Stewart is built like a superhero and, it turns out, he might just have super powers. After being ruled out of the game minutes after collapsing under the Golden State basket and writhing in pain with a right ankle injury, Stewart – who needed assistance to get to his feet and walk to the locker room – tested the ankle and declared himself ready to go. The Pistons upgraded his status to questionable before the third quarter was out. Stewart returned to the bench, still in uniform, with his ankle wrapped with ice and bandaged around his sneaker, using a rubber exercise band to stretch it out. Though he did not re-enter the game, it was at least a sigh of relief that he suffered no apparent long-term injury. Overnight inflammation could mean Stewart still has to miss some time. Already minus Kelly Olynyk until late December at the earliest, the Pistons would be left with only rookie Luka Garza, the 52nd pick in the July draft, as the roster’s lone true center, if Stewart is unavailable. Dwane Casey has utilized veteran Trey Lyles as Stewart’s primary backup since Olynyk was injured on Nov. 10 at Houston. Olynyk will be re-evaluated in late December. With seven minutes left, Casey went with a lineup with Jerami Grant at center with Saddiq Bey, Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes and Frank Jackson. The Pistons cut what was a 16-point deficit to four inside the final two minutes. Two Jerami Grant free throws with 33 seconds left cut it to three and the Pistons got the ball back with a chance to tie. Two triples – the first by Grant, the second by Jackson – failed to fall as the Pistons finished 14 of 42 from the arc. The Pistons were soundly outrebounded, 48-34, though Golden State’s advantage in second-chance points was only 18-12. The Warriors – missing Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala – got 32 points from Jordan Poole, the third-year guard from Michigan.
BENCH SPOTLIGHT – Golden State was still able to field a starting lineup with punch given the presence of Andrew Wiggins and the emergence of third-year guard Jordan Poole, who helped the Warriors build an early 13-point lead by scoring 11 first-quarter points on 3 of 4 shooting from the 3-point arc. But the absence of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala meant the Warriors were especially thin on the second unit. That’s where the Pistons held their biggest advantage – on paper, at least – and Frank Jackson led the charge in turning that into reality. His 16 first-half points – a season high – helped the Pistons come back to briefly take the lead in the second quarter. Jackson finished with 27 points, hitting 5 of 11 from the 3-point arc and all six of his free throws. His triple three minutes into the fourth quarter enabled the Pistons to cut Golden State’s lead, 16 after three quarters, to eight. Dwane Casey went just four deep into his bench until Isaiah Stewart’s ankle injury forced Luka Garza into the mix, again using Hamidou Diallo over Josh Jackson as he did in Wednesday’s win over Indiana. Diallo responded with his best game of the season with 10 points and five rebounds in 13 minutes. The Pistons outscored Golden State’s bench, 52-30. Wiggins and Poole combined for 59 points, more than half Golden State’s total.
COLD STORAGE – The three players the Pistons depend on for scoring more than all others, clearly, are Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey and Cade Cunningham. One reason the Pistons have bumped along at or near the bottom of NBA offensive ratings all season – they came into Friday’s game 28th, just ahead of Houston and Oklahoma City – is that the three combined were shooting less than 40 percent overall and less than 30 percent from the 3-point line. Cunningham’s numbers are likely to rise as he gets more comfortable. In fact, after missing his first 18 3-point shots, he’d hit 35.4 percent of his triples before Friday. And Cunningham continued to show he’s growing more comfortable against the Warriors, finishing with 19 points (6 of 12 shooting, 3 of 8 from 3, 4 of 4 free throws) plus six rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots – including a big one on Andrew Wiggins at the rim to give the Pistons the ball back with less than 30 seconds left trailing by three points. But Bey and Grant combined to go 2 of 15 in Friday’s first half, a big reason the Pistons had to play from behind most of the game, and they finished a combined 9 of 30. Bey, who shot 38 percent from the 3-point line as a rookie, came into Friday’s game at just 31.4 percent on 6.1 attempts per game. Grant entered Friday at 30.9 percent on 5.2 attempts per game. Grant shook loose for 10 points in the third quarter, when he hit 4 of 7 shots and 2 of 3 triples. He finished with 19 points, hitting 6 of 17 shots and 3 of 10 triples. Bey scored seven points, hitting 3 of 13 shots and 1 of 6 triples.