Three quick observations from Sunday night’s 121-116 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Little Caesars Arena
TOE TO TOE – As if there wasn’t enough entertainment value in Sunday’s wild, searing loss to the Lakers, the Pistons threw in a heavyweight bout for free. There could be some grim consequences coming from the NBA, though, in the aftermath of a scuffle that left Isaiah Stewart with a nasty gash over his right eye from what appeared a backhanded closed fist of LeBron James that saw both ejected early in the third quarter. Stewart needed to be held back by coaches, teammates and other Pistons personnel as he attempted to circle back to James several times during an emotionally charged several minutes. James was ejected for a flagrant-2 foul and Stewart for two technical fouls. The Pistons extended a seven-point halftime lead to 17 in the third quarter, but the Lakers charged back with a 14-2 run to open the fourth quarter to pull within two points and they tied the game at 111 with 2:41 to play and took the lead 23 seconds later after a Pistons turnover. The Pistons without Stewart didn’t have enough size or interior presence to slow the Lakers, who outscored the Pistons 37-17 in the fourth quarter. The Pistons had a chance to tie when Frank Jackson’s blocked shot gave them the ball back with 5.9 seconds to play trailing 119-116, but Hamidou Diallo’s pass was intercepted. The first half was not just the highest-scoring half (68) of the season, it was about as cleanly played as possible. Jerami Grant hit four straight 3-pointers in the final 2:18 of the half as the Pistons took a seven-point lead after a half in which they committed two turnovers – one in the final seconds while trying to hurry a last-ditch shot. Grant finished with 36 points for the Pistons. Cade Cunningham recorded his first triple-double and finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook led the Lakers, Davis with 30 points,10 rebounds and five blocked shots and Westbrook with 26 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. The Pistons had won their first three games with the Lakers at Little Caesars Arena – they didn’t host the Lakers in 2019-20 when the season was aborted due to the COVID-19 pandemic – as part of a five-game home win streak overall against them. The last Lakers win on a Pistons home court came on Dec. 2, 2014 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
LINEUP SHUFFLE – Killian Hayes missed his second game of the season with a left thumb injury that’s plagued him since early in the month and forced him to the bench a few times in other games. With Hayes out, Dwane Casey chose to elevate Cory Joseph to the starting lineup and use Cade Cunningham as the sole point guard when Joseph sat. Moving Joseph to the starting lineup, on top of the absence of Kelly Olynyk with a knee injury suffered earlier this month, robs Casey’s bench – second in scoring to San Antonio’s – of its two anchors. But the bench put together an electric stretch early in the second quarter, sparked by Hamidou Diallo’s 11 points in nine minutes and Frank Jackson’s continued hot shooting. Diallo finished with 17 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes. Josh Jackson, who hadn’t played in the previous two games, contributed five points, four rebounds and three assists. The bench didn’t have the same results in the second half, though, scoring only 14 of its 44 points after halftime, though Frank Jackson gave the Pistons some punch amid their fourth-quarter travails. Jackson also finished with three blocked shots.
TOUGH MATCHUPS – With Kelly Olynyk out, an already undersized Pistons team gets that much smaller and against the towering Lakers, it proved troublesome. The Lakers split their big-man minutes among three true big men: All-Star Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan. LeBron James played almost all of his 21 minutes at small forward before his third-quarter ejection. The Pistons went a stretch of several minutes in the second quarter with a small lineup of Trey Lyles at center, Josh Jackson and Hamidou Diallo at forward and Frank Jackson and Cory Joseph in the backcourt. They went even smaller in the second half after Isaiah Stewart was ejected with Jerami Grant at center. The Lakers wound up with a 51-39 rebounding advantage but the Pistons didn’t pay a huge price. Second-chance points wound up 15-13 in the Pistons favor.
The Lakers used their size to advantage especially well early in the game, scoring 14 points in the paint in the first six minutes. The Pistons found a way to counter after that, though, until the fourth quarter when they went most of the way with Grant at center trying to contend with Davis. The Lakers wound up with 56 points in the paint to 50 for the Pistons.