Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 140-110 loss to the New York Knicks at Little Caesars Arena
NEW LOOK – On a night the Pistons got two starters back and remained without two others, Dwane Casey – practiced at lineup creativity now after a wave of injuries over the past month – unveiled a first-time starting lineup. It was big up front with Isaiah Stewart, back after missing seven games with a sprained right big toe, starting next to Marvin Bagley III and Bojan Bogdanovic, who escaped serious injury to his right knee and ankle to miss just one game. It was big in the backcourt, too, with Killian Hayes joined by Isaiah Livers. Going to the two-big lineup is something Casey has had designs on doing – the Nov. 14 game with Toronto, the one in which Stewart suffered the injury, was his first chance to do so because of Bagley’s preseason knee injury – and he went right back to it. Small sample sizes aren’t going to dissuade him, but the Knicks looked to exploit it from the opening tip and rolled to 40 first-quarter points with an emphasis on 3-point shooting. A team that ranked 30th in the NBA in 3-point accuracy (.316) and 11th in attempts (34.6 per game) hit 8 of 16 in the opening quarter alone. Julius Randle, going against Stewart at power forward, hit 5 of 8 in the first quarter and made four in the first five minutes. The Knicks didn’t attempt any triples in the first six minutes of the second quarter, but hit another pair – one from Randle, one from Jalen Brunson – when Stewart re-entered the game, both with Stewart in coverage. It wasn’t like Stewart was out of place – indeed, he was contesting the shots – but it’s indicative of the way teams are likely to attack that lineup. The Knicks hit 16 of 35 for the game. If you’re looking for a silver lining to the Bagley-Stewart lineup, it’s this: They combined to hit 8 of 15 from the 3-point line with Stewart hitting 5 of 9, including 4 of 5 in the third quarter. Every Pistons starter finished at minus-20 or worse.
ODD MAN OUT – Dwane Casey always cautions against reading into rotations or lineup combinations, but with Isaiah Stewart and Bojan Bogdanovic back somebody was going to get squeezed from the second unit. For one night, at least, that was Hamidou Diallo until the game was well out of hand late in the third quarter and Casey went to the last two players available, Diallo and Rodney McGruder. The second unit consisted of Jalen Duren, Saddiq Bey, Kevin Knox, Cory Joseph and the player who’s tied that unit together since his return in the season’s 13th game, Alec Burks. Joseph’s play has ticked up noticeably dating to about the time of Burks’ return to give a point guard comfortable as a quarterback a viable scoring option on his flank. Saddiq Bey came off the bench in the Nov. 14 game in which Stewart was hurt, then went back in the starting lineup before missing the final three games of the Western road swing but was again with the second unit against New York. Knox gives the unit a legitimate 3-point threat while Diallo’s activity and on-ball defense are his calling cards. When the Pistons need a jolt, Casey likely won’t hesitate to wave Diallo into the game. Duren, meanwhile, continues to impress. The NBA’s youngest player was a bright spot of the first half when he posted six points and five rebounds in 11 minutes. He finished with 12 points and hit 6 of 7 from the field.
FRUSTRATION BOILS – When Julius Randle dunked at 10:24 of the third quarter for his 29th and 30th points of the game, punctuating a fast break, Dwane Casey got off the bench to whistle for a timeout before the ball hit the court. Randle, meanwhile, got in Isaiah Stewart’s face as Stewart went to grab the ball to inbound it and Stewart didn’t appreciate the intent, giving Randle a two-hand shove. It resulted in a technical foul for Stewart. Less than two minutes later, Casey had yanked his entire starting five. A week after winning back-to-back games at Denver and Utah and pushing Phoenix to the final minute despite a depleted roster, the Pistons seemed drained of energy and bubbling with frustration. The early Knicks 3-point barrage set a tone, even though Detroit’s bench unit actually allowed the Pistons to erase an 11-point first-half deficit and briefly take a one-point lead with eight minutes left in the first half. The Knicks outscored the Pistons 26-11 to end the half and pulled away early in the third quarter to lead by 31 entering the fourth.