Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 100-92 loss to the Miami Heat at Little Caesars Arena
FOURTH-QUARTER FAILURE – Minus Isaiah Stewart, the Pistons channeled his physical toughness and defensive aptitude in a game that more resembled the NBA of a generation ago – until the fourth quarter, when the Pistons followed one of their best 36-minute stretches of the season with one of their least impressive 12 minutes. The Pistons lost a 15-point lead against the Lakers on Sunday when they were outscored 37-17 in the final quarter; against Miami, it was a 33-16 fourth-quarter count. The Heat outscored the Pistons 27-6 to open the quarter to turn a nine-point deficit into a 12-point lead. The Pistons pulled within six with a minute left but got no closer. Stewart, serving the first of his two-game suspension in the aftermath of Sunday’s dustup with LeBron James and the Lakers, leaves a void for the Pistons, already shorthanded up front with the injury to Kelly Olynyk. But against the NBA’s No. 4 offense, the Pistons played one of their most complete defensive games of the season – for three quarters. Tyler Herro hit consecutive 3-pointers 18 seconds apart early in the fourth quarter to pull Miami within three points as the Heat outscored the Pistons 18-3 in the first four-plus minutes after being held to 67 points through three quarters. Herro carried Miami’s offense, scoring 11 of the 18 points to open the final quarter, and finished with 30. Offense was often a struggle, no surprise with the Pistons missing two starters – Stewart and Killian Hayes, sitting for at least two games as he recovers from a recurring thumb injury – plus Olynyk, a lynchpin of their second unit. Over the first 12 possessions of the fourth quarter, the Pistons had one basket, two free throws – one on a technical foul – and four turnovers. Jerami Grant led the Pistons with 21 points. The Pistons led virtually all of the first half and by as much as 10 points, holding the Heat to just 3 of 11 from the 3-point arc. They led by 12 in the third quarter. The longest home stand concluded with the Pistons going 1-4 and now starts the season’s longest road trip, five games over nine days that opens Wednesday in Milwaukee and stops next for two games in Los Angeles on the holiday weekend.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS – With two 20-year-old starters missing due to injury (Killian Hayes) or suspension (Isaiah Stewart), the door opened for two other young Pistons, Luka Garza and Saben Lee. Garza drew his first career start – he also took the microphone before player introductions to welcome fans and wish them happy holidays – and played 17 minutes while dodging foul trouble, picking up five. Garza had a terrific stretch in the second quarter when he scored seven straight Pistons points in less than a minute, grabbed contested rebounds at each end and drew a charge on Kyle Lowry. The Pistons would still love to get Garza more time in the G League to become more comfortable with the defensive demands of an NBA big man, but that might have to wait until Kelly Olynyk can return from injury. He finished with seven points, three rebounds and two assists. Lee, who has had two 40-point games in the G League for the Motor City Cruise, got minutes as the lead ballhandler with the second unit with both Cory Joseph and Cade Cunningham out of the game. He didn’t take a shot in seven minutes.
BEY WATCH – Things are trending in the right direction for Saddiq Bey after slumping with his 3-point shooting, the trend across the league as all 30 teams came into Tuesday’s play shooting worse from the arc than last year. Though Bey came into Tuesday’s game at 30.3 percent from the 3-point line this season after hitting 38 percent as a rookie, he’s begun to heat up and start taking triples at a clip more in line with his rookie numbers. Bey got heated up quickly on Tuesday, hitting 3 of 5 from the arc in the game’s first eight minutes, though he missed his last five and finished with 15 points and five rebounds. Over the previous five games, Bey had hit 13 of 33 triples, or 39 percent. He’d taken 48 percent of his shots from the arc, well below the 67 percent of his rookie season but above the rate so far this season.