Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 125-116 win over the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena
DOUBLE THE FUN – Happy Thanksgiving, indeed! The turkey the Pistons feast on in Phoenix on their day off – after the most impressive back-to-back sweep of the NBA season – will be especially succulent, one suspects. After recording their best win of the season 24 hours earlier against a fully staffed Denver roster, the Pistons might have been expected to take a deep breath and get their doors blown off by the NBA’s biggest surprise team, Utah, a team that began the night in a virtual tie atop the Western Conference with Phoenix. But the Pistons took every punch Utah administered and still took an eight-point lead into the fourth quarter, saw the Jazz pull within three points twice inside the final six minutes and still repelled every push. It was the first time the Pistons have won consecutive games this season and they did it against two of the best teams in the West on consecutive nights – and at altitude, to boot. Want more to put the improbability of the win in perspective? The Pistons were 6-36 in Salt Lake City since the Jazz relocated to Utah in 1979. Kevin Knox hit a career-high six 3-pointers and scored a season-high 21 points, hitting 6 of 8 from the 3-point line. Marvin Bagley III scored a season-high 19 points and hit 9 of 10 shots as the Pistons got balanced scoring and major contributions from the bench for a third straight game. Bojan Bogdanovic, who came from the Jazz in trade on the eve of training camp, scored 23 points.
BENCH FLEX – Coming off its two best outings of the season – 55 points at Sacramento on Sunday and 53 more in Tuesday’s exhilarating win at Denver – the Pistons bench helped them get off to another strong start, leading Utah 30-25 after a quarter. By the midway point of the second quarter, the bench had scored 30 of 49 Pistons points as they led by 12 points. It was an across-the-board effort, too. The unit of Kevin Knox, Alec Burks, Cory Joseph, Jalen Duren and Hamidou Diallo has a nice mix of shooting, athleticism and veteran savvy with Burks’ uncanny scoring knack and Joseph’s command of the half-court offense. Knox hit a pair of threes in the quarter, playing only the last four minutes, and hit another early in the second quarter as the Pistons were expanding their lead. He hit another pair of triples in the fourth quarter after Utah had pulled within three points and a third with 4:43 left to give the Pistons a seven-point lead. His 21 points comes after he put up 17 at Denver. Knox has averaged 16.3 points over the last three games. Burks, who scored 21 in the win at Denver and has solidified the bench upon returning after missing the season’s first 12 games, finished with 18 points and his a critical late-game triple for the second consecutive night. The Pistons wound up with a season-best 58 points off of their bench. Joseph played seven first-half minutes but took a seat with four points and five assists, finishing with six points and six assists.. He was stretched out a little more in the second half when Killian Hayes couldn’t go with a left calf injury, limiting the Pistons to a nine-man rotation.
DECISIONS AHEAD – It will be a very pleasant quandary for Dwane Casey to solve, but a potentially tricky one to navigate in any case when Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and perhaps Cade Cunningham return in the fairly near future. Bey’s sprained ankle isn’t expected to keep him out much longer and Stewart’s sprained right big toe not much longer than that with Cunningham’s status with left shin soreness to be determined. But the Pistons have found a comfort zone on their longest road trip of the season, putting themselves in position to win the first three games before breaking through at Denver and following up at Utah. Integrating those three young players so central to their future isn’t something they’d slow play, but folding them back in without disrupting the momentum they’ve accumulated will be a challenge. In particular, the second unit that’s become such a positive force will undergo significant change and some players who’ve seized opportunity might see their playing time curtailed or cut out altogether. For one example, how do you take Kevin Knox out of the rotation at this point? But Bey is coming back and he’s obviously playing. Either Isaiah Livers, who’s started in Bey’s absence, or Hamidou Diallo will have to fight to keep a spot.