Three quick observations from Thursday night’s 114-103 loss to the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center
STACKED ODDS – Dragging a season-long seven-game losing streak behind them and facing the NBA’s hottest team to finish up a five-game road trip? Yeah, the odds were stacked against the Pistons. And Phoenix – gunning to set the franchise record of 18 straight wins – wasn’t in a mood to cut them any breaks. Riding big advantages in rebounding (29-16) and bench scoring (35-10), Phoenix opened an 18-point halftime lead – and then saw the Pistons go on a 17-0 run late in the quarter to pull within a point. Jerami Grant had another big night, leading the Pistons with 34 points, and Cade Cunningham was at the heart of the third-quarter rally, scoring 10 of his 19 points during the 17-0 run. The Pistons kept it close deep into the fourth quarter – Saddiq Bey’s triple with 2:57 left made it a five-point game – before Phoenix iced it with an 8-0 run. After finishing the season’s longest road trip, the Pistons get three days off before hosting Oklahoma City on Monday, going from the NBA’s hottest team to one coming off the worst loss in league history, a 152-79 loss to Memphis.
LESSONS LEARNED – Cade Cunningham, coming off a career-high 26 points on just 13 shots at Portland, had another promising start sidetracked when he picked up three fouls in the game’s first six minutes. The fouls came less than two minutes apart. After the second, drawn by Chris Paul, Dwane Casey got Frank Jackson off the bench. But on the very next defensive possession, Cunningham was isolated on Paul again and the veteran swung his arms with the ball in a deliberate baiting move but got the call. Paul drew two of Cunningham’s three tightly bunched fouls even though the rookie wasn’t even guarding Paul but got caught on him in switches and in transition. A few minutes after Cunningham went to the bench, Killian Hayes picked up his second foul with the same move Paul used to induce Cunningham’s third foul – swinging his arms from left to right and into the outstretched arm of his defender. Casey brought Cunningham and Hayes back with 7:20 left in the second quarter and got them out with 1:41 to go and his gamble paid off. Cunningham picked up four assists without a foul in that time, two of his assists going to Hayes, who scored 10 points without missing any of his four shots in that same time frame. In his last two games, Cunningham has scored 45 points on 18 of 28 shooting and 8 of 12 from the 3-point arc. Hayes finished with 10 points, six boards, three assists and two blocked shots.
BENCH BLUES – The Pistons came into the game with the NBA’s top-scoring bench at 40.7 points per game, but it’s not the same bench that started the season without its leading scorer Kelly Olynyk – and it wasn’t a night to remember for the bench. Phoenix took command of the game over the last three minutes of the first quarter with a 12-2 spurt that came against the Pistons bench and the Suns wound up with a 48-20 bench advantage. Dwane Casey went only four deep into his bench in the first half with Cory Joseph, Trey Lyles, Hamidou Diallo and Frank Jackson. Likely because of the rebounding disparity when the Pistons used Lyles as their second-unit center, Casey used rookie Luka Garza for four minutes in the second half with Lyles at power forward. Diallo gave the Pistons some spark in the second half and his numbers would have looked better but for having a 3-point shot wiped out – it came a fraction of a second after the shot clock’s expiration – that appeared to tie the game at 82. Phoenix’s bench was led by Cameron Payne (19 points, 15 in the first half), Cameron Johnson (22, 12 in the first half) and JaVale McGee (10, eight in the first half).