Three quick observations from Sunday afternoon’s 118-105 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves
SUNDAY SCRAP – Minnesota came into the game with the NBA’s best offense since the calendar flipped to 2022 and the most 3-pointers made per game. The Pistons played Minnesota only three days ago, but the Timberwolves had a different look and a more challenging matchup for the Pistons this time around with D’Angelo Russell returning and starting in place of Jaden McDaniels. Even without Russell, the Timberwolves scored 128 points at Little Caesars Arena. The Pistons, scrappy from start to finish, were better at the defensive end against a more potent Minnesota team this time around, but eventually the Timberwolves firepower won out. After being held to 24 points in the first quarter, Minnesota hit five triples in five tries in the first three minutes of the second quarter to surge into a lead. From that point on, it was a game of mini-surges with neither team able to create any real distance. The first double-digits lead came when McDaniels’ three put the Pistons down 10 with 7:47 to play and another from McDaniels made it 13. Saddiq Bey (24 points) and Killian Hayes (all of his 10 on 5 of 5 shooting came in the fourth quarter, plus eight assists) brought the Pistons back within five points with three minutes to play. They scored the final 19 Pistons points. Minnesota finished 17 of 36 from the 3-point arc, 47.2 percent.The Pistons didn’t commit a turnover until their last possession of the first quarter and took a 26-24 lead despite shooting 40 percent because of the extra possessions they created by taking care of the ball against a team that forces more turnovers than any NBA team. The Pistons wound up with 11 turnovers, five fewer than Minnesota generates on average.
PLAYING IT SAFE – Dwane Casey said 90 minutes before tipoff that Cade Cunningham was going to test his right hip pointer, an injury suffered in Tuesday’s loss to New Orleans, prior to the game but in the same breath said the Pistons would exercise caution with the rookie’s return. So it was no surprise when Cunningham was held out of the game, the third he’s missed with the injury, and was replaced in the starting lineup by Hamidou Diallo. Diallo finished with 11 points and six rebounds. Late in the first half, he picked up two fouls against noted agent provocateur Patrick Beverly, who after the first baited Diallo into a technical foul that resulted in a four-point possession for the Timberwolves. Diallo’s two steals put him ahead of San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray for most in the NBA since Dec. 18 with 44. Cunningham might be good to go on Tuesday when the Pistons wrap up a two-game road trip at Dallas, near his hometown of Arlington.
THAT’S WHY HE’S TREY – Trey Lyles lived up to his name against Minnesota, scoring 12 points in seven minutes upon entering the game and scoring them three at a time. Lyles hit one 3-point shot and scored nine points on three and-one opportunities, scoring the basket and drawing a foul. He added another and-one opportunity early in the fourth quarter, though he missed the free throw that time. Lyles has emerged as a consistent bench scorer in his seventh NBA season, averaging 16 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes. And since Dec. 21 – just after Jerami Grant exited the lineup with a thumb injury, which coupled with Kelly Olynyk’s injury opened even more of a role for Lyles – he’s seventh in NBA bench scoring at 13.4 points a game. Lyles didn’t get a lot of help with bench scoring in this one until Hayes’ fourth-quarter flurry, out of character for the Pistons. They came into the game averaging 38.9 bench points per game, third in the NBA. Frank Jackson has been at the heart of it, averaging 11.3 for the season, finished with nine points. Kelly Olynyk, around whom the second unit’s offense was intended to revolve, continues to struggle since returning last week from a bout with COVID-19. He’s scored 12 points in four games and has shot 5 of 22.