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Cunningham soars as Pistons rally from 22 down to top Jazz


Three quick observations from Monday night’s 126-116 win over the Utah Jazz at Little Caesars Arena

CADE DOMINATES – Cade Cunningham put a half of basketball together that recalled the heyday of Isiah Thomas, Grant Hill or the best of Blake Griffin from three years ago and the Pistons won a game that looked like it was headed for a lopsided loss when they trailed by 22 points midway through the second quarter. Cunningham missed his first five shots of the game and had just five points and two assists at halftime. But he scored 18 in the third quarter and finished with 29 points and eight assists. He hit 10 of 12 shots after the 0 of 5 start and was 5 of 9 from three and 4 of 4 from the 3-point line. Cunningham got terrific complementary outings from Saddiq Bey (29 points, 5 of 7 from the 3-point arc) and Cory Joseph (16 points, 4 of 4 from three). Utah, the NBA’s No. 1 offensive team by a wide margin, looked for about 15 minutes at Little Caesars Arena like it would clinch the title for the season. The Jazz ran up 44 points three minutes into the second quarter. But the Pistons found their footing defensively, Rex Kalamian tweaked his rotation and Cunningham found his groove. The Pistons pulled even with four minutes left in the third quarter and surged to a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Isaiah Stewart anchored the Pistons defensively after the leaky start and Kalamian made sure in the second half to keep Stewart paired against Utah’s Hassan Whiteside, who hurt the Pistons badly late in the first and early in the second quarters when his size advantage helped him roll to 18 points in the first 18 minutes. Utah hit 5 of 12 from the 3-point arc in the first quarter to 1 of 8 for the Pistons. But the Pistons finished 19 of 37 and Utah 11 of 33.

MAN DOWN – The Pistons have all of their players back from health and safety protocols – eight were at one time missing – but they lost coach Dwane Casey to quarantine, his spot on the bench again assumed by assistant coach Rex Kalamian. Casey became the NBA’s 14th head coach of 30 to be sidelined by COVID-19 protocols this season. Casey previously missed four road games last month due to personal reasons unrelated to COVID-19. Kalamian, who coached under Casey at both Minnesota and Toronto, said before the game that he’d spoken frequently with Casey throughout the day regarding the rotation and playing time. “It’s about getting our guys to play connected, communicate as much as possible and continue to grow in 12-minute increments,” Kalamian said. “Quarter to quarter to quarter to end of the game – just keep showing growth.” Other NBA head coaches who’ve missed time due to health and safety protocols this season are Indiana’s Rick Carlisle, Sacramento’s Alvin Gentry, Frank Vogel of the Los Angeles Lakers, Ty Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers, Monte Williams of Phoenix, Doc Rivers of Philadelphia, Chauncey Billups of Portland, Mark Daigneault of Oklahoma City, Billy Donovan of Chicago, Nate McMillan of Atlanta, Mike Budenholzer of Milwaukee, Mike Malone of Denver and Jason Kidd of Dallas.

CHANGING PLACES – The Pistons on Monday announced the trade reported Sunday that brings 7-foot-2 Bol Bol to Detroit in exchange for Rodney McGruder and draft considerations, reportedly the No. 2 pick of Brooklyn that came from the Nets as part of the return for Sekou Doumbouya. Bol was not available to the Pistons on Monday and his status for Tuesday’s game at Chicago isn’t clear. Pistons assistant coach Rex Kalamian – who was an assistant in Oklahoma City when McGruder came to training camp with the Thunder and was on staff in Los Angeles when McGruder played for the Clippers – extolled McGruder when he met with reporters before the game. “He is the ultimate professional. Just a classy guy, hard worker, a team-first person and a great individual. We’re certainly going to miss his spirit, his positive energy. I can’t say enough good things about Rodney. I told him all the time, ‘You’re going to make a great coach someday.’ ” With McGruder gone, Cassius Stanley took his minutes, scoring four points in the first half. The rotation got tightened in the second half and Stanley didn’t play.