Three quick observations from Thursday night’s 131-125 double-overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks at Little Caesars Arena
STAR TURN – The wave of injuries that washed over the Pistons in November has begun to recede. Bojan Bogdanovic and Isaiah Stewart returned on Tuesday and Jaden Ivey was back on Thursday – though it turned out to be a one for one swap as Isaiah Livers left the game due to injury in the first quarter. If there was any concern that the knee soreness that cost Ivey the past three games would rob him of his trademark burst, it was erased immediately. The first four times Ivey touched the ball, he blew holes in the Dallas defense to produce two layups for him and assist on two setups for a Jalen Duren layup and dunk. The week off looks like it gave the rookie fresh legs. He finished with 16 points and six assists, hitting a clutch triple in overtime, and the impact of his speed and quickness on the Dallas defense was impossible to miss. But it was the other Pistons guard, Killian Hayes, who wound up stealing the show. Hayes hit three mid-range jump shots down the stretch of regulation as the Pistons surged to an eight-point lead, then hit consecutive triples with the game tied late in overtime. Hayes finished with 22 points, four rebounds and five assists. He hit 10 of 13 shots and 2 of 4 from the 3-point line and committed just two turnovers in 33 minutes. It got to overtime because the Pistons, up by 10 to start the fourth quarter, were outscored 15-8 by Dallas while Luka Doncic sat for the first six minutes to pull the Mavs within three points.One other key stat that made it a close call: The Pistons finished 13 of 22 at the foul line in regulation, those nine misses looking critical down the stretch.
LIVERS JOINS THE LIST – Isaiah Livers remained in the starting lineup on Tuesday even with Saddiq Bey back and he was there again on Thursday even though Jaden Ivey returned. Livers, however, suffered a right shoulder sprain in the first quarter and headed straight to the locker room where he was quickly ruled out for the game. Without Livers, the primary defenders against Luka Doncic – who scored 35 points with 10 assists – were Bojan Bogdanovic and Killian Hayes, though with Dallas putting the ball in Doncic’s hands on virtually every possession and the Pistons employing their switching scheme, every had a turn on him. When Bogdanovic exited late in the third quarter, Kevin Knox took a turn on Doncic and his steal and lob to Jalen Duren in the final seconds of the third quarter briefly gave the Pistons their biggest lead, 12. Livers probably isn’t ticketed for the starting lineup if Dwane Casey has all hands on deck, but it’s clear Livers has earned Casey’s trust defensively. That was the case early in the season when he inserted Livers for late-game possessions to guard Atlanta’s Trae Young and even more obvious when he started against Cleveland to guard Donovan Mitchell on Sunday. His injury came after Livers, who’d been struggling with his 3-point shot as it plummeted to 34 percent, opened the game by making both of his triple attempts.
DYNAMIC DUO – There will be fits and starts and trial and error involved as the Pistons give the Marvin Bagley III-Isaiah Stewart pairing a full airing, but there are some undeniably encouraging signs already present. Stewart, after a slow start from the 3-point line, has been on a tear of late, hitting 50 percent of his triples in November. He played all 37 of his minutes against Dallas alongside another big man and finished with nine points and 12 rebounds. Bagley hit 3 of 6 from the arc against New York earlier this week and knocked down an early one against Dallas, finishing with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Dwane Casey not only started them but essentially played them for the same minutes, taking them out of the game at nearly the same juncture in both the first and third quarters. Casey sees Stewart’s 3-point threat and his ability to move his feet as keys to making the tandem work and he fully expects the Pistons to improve their rebounding with the bigger lineup. The Pistons wound up with a 52-30 rebounding edge. With the Pistons getting healthy and Casey getting his two big men into the starting lineup, the bench consisted of rookies Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey plus Saddiq Bey, Alec Burks and Kevin Knox. Once Isaiah Livers was injured and another body was needed, Dwane Casey tapped Cory Joseph. As good as the bench has been since the return of Burks after he missed the first 12 games, there’s room for more from Casey’s second unit. Duren is only going to get better as the NBA’s youngest player gets more games under his belt and Saddiq Bey has yet to hit his stride. Bey, who missed three games with an ankle injury before returning on Sunday, is shooting a career-worst 27 percent from the 3-point line. Bey finished with six points in 19 minutes.