Three quick observations from Friday night’s 98-78 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
MISSING LINK – The Pistons played their first game since absorbing the sobering news that they’d be without Kelly Olynyk a minimum of six weeks. Olynyk, fourth in scoring at 12.5 points per game and fifth in minutes played, suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Wednesday’s win at Houston. Dwane Casey would have preferred not having to put his action plan for replacing Olynyk’s minutes on display quite as soon as he did. But when Isaiah Stewart, frequently beset by early foul trouble, managed to pick up fouls on two of Cleveland’s first three possessions, Casey had to bring rookie Luka Garza into the game just 82 seconds after tipoff. It didn’t help any when Jerami Grant, coming off a 35-point night in the win at Houston, followed Stewart to the bench with two fouls less than four minutes into the game. Casey’s second-half rotation included some of Trey Lyles at center and a little more of the rookie. The Pistons will need to figure out how to make do without Olynyk’s offensive skill set – his passing, his perimeter threat, his ability to put the ball on the floor and draw a second defender. For a struggling offense that came into the game ranked 30th in offensive efficiency, Friday’s season-low 78-point performance – in which the Pistons shot 36 percent and were held to 11 third-quarter points – suggests there’ll be an adjustment period ahead of them.
TURNOVER TROUBLE – Early foul trouble forced Dwane Casey to stray from his typical substitution pattern and led to some unfamiliar lineups, which might have had something to do with the rash of first-half turnovers that was behind Cleveland’s 12-0 run begun late in the first quarter that allowed the Cavs to establish control of the game. The Pistons, averaging 15.2 per game, committed eight in the first quarter and then tacked on three more in the first two minutes of the second quarter. The Pistons trailed by 11 points at halftime when Cleveland held a 20-4 advantage in points off of turnovers. The Pistons went past their per-game turnover average just three minutes into the second half. Nobody had more trouble with Cleveland’s length than rookie Cade Cunningham, who committed seven turnovers and didn’t score in the second half, finishing with nine points, six rebounds and three assists. Cory Joseph and Trey Lyles had three turnovers apiece. The Pistons finished with 23 turnovers that Cleveland converted to 27 points.
KILLER KILLIAN – Killian Hayes’ defense stood out to Dwane Casey early in his rookie season as a 19-year-old and as Hayes gets more familiar with NBA personnel and catalogs more and more repetitions, that defense is coming to the fore in games now. His length and sturdy frame, especially considering his youth, combined with extraordinarily active hands make Hayes a defensive menace. It manifested in picking up a career-high six steals at Cleveland – five of them coming in the first half, one of the things that kept the Pistons within hailing distance even as they were experiencing their own turnover issues and shooting difficulties. Hayes, like pretty much all of his teammates, shot poorly (2 of 8) but finished with five points, six rebounds and five assists in addition to his six steals.