It might not be enough to exorcise the organizational memory of Larry Bird’s stolen pass to rob the Pistons of a win that likely would have sent them to the NBA Finals a year ahead of their 1988 debut, but it was a wonderful balm for a team on an eight-game losing streak and heading into the All-Star break.
The Pistons had the ball and a one-point lead – the situation they found themselves in at the old Boston Garden in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals – when Cory Joseph, playing the part of Isiah Thomas, and Cade Cunningham, filling the Bill Laimbeer role, misread each other and allowed Derrick White, as Bird, to knife in front of Cunningham and steal the ball.
All that’s missing is Johnny Most’s gravel-throated call.
“Now there’s a steal by Bird, underneath to D.J., lays it in!”
This time, it didn’t cost the Pistons a potential NBA championship. It didn’t even cost them the game.
Jerami Grant, who’d given the Pistons the lead seconds earlier with the type of basket that made him the target of contenders and speculation at the trade deadline, forced Jayson Tatum into a tightly contested 20-foot fadeaway that missed at the buzzer.
“We didn’t want to go into the break with nine straight losses,” Grant said after his 24-point outing led the 112-111 win over Boston, snapping a nine-game Celtics winning streak a night after they won by 48 at Philadelphia. “We’ve got something to build on for the rest of the season now. It’s huge.”
Grant scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, making all five of his shots. The big one came with 19 seconds left when he got the ball on the right wing isolated on Tatum, took him into the paint, spun and made a tough basket over Tatum’s long reach.
“I just wanted to get to my spot,” Grant said. “Once I got to my spot, I was going to raise over whoever was there. This is what I came here for, to get shots like this and be in situations like this and grow as a player.”
“It was a big-time performance by Jerami,” Dwane Casey said. “In this league, with everybody switching, you’ve got to be able to create your own shots and tonight Jerami did that.”
It was Grant’s best game since returning from a 24-game absence around a thumb injury and a stint in NBA health and safety protocols, just as it was the best outing for Kelly Olynyk since he missed 33 games with a knee injury and then another four on top of that on the COVID list. Olynyk, who’d averaged 4.6 points and shot 3 of 20 from the 3-point arc over eight games since returning, had 15 points and six rebounds in 17 minutes and hit 3 of 4 triples on a night the Pistons drained 16 of 30.
“It was good to have some shots fall and get back into a little better flow and rhythm,” Olynyk said in the building where he spent his first four NBA seasons. “I thought we were pretty good as a team, getting into a flow and rhythm as a unit – both units, really – and just playing 48 minutes.”
The Pistons also got big games from Saddiq Bey and Cade Cunningham, Bey with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six assists and Cunningham 20 points, eight boards and six assists. Isaiah Stewart went into double figure for a fifth straight game, the longest streak of his career, and finished with 12 points and six boards. All three are off to Cleveland where they’ll take part in Friday’s Rising Sars tournament featuring the best first- and second-year players in the NBA.
With Stewart progressing on top of the addition of Marvin Bagley III and the return of Olynyk and Grant, the Pistons will pack a little more wallop in the paint over the season’s final stretch. They outrebounded Boston 47-30 and held a whopping 18-2 edge in offensive rebounds. They also racked up 28 assists with nine of their 10 players contributing at least one.
“Proud of the way they competed,” Casey said. “I loved the togetherness we had. We were connected. It’s something we talked about and guys put their words into action. Together, connected, cheering for each other on the bench, nobody cared who scored.”