Three quick observations from Friday night’s 114-103 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum
YOUTH MOVEMENT – Jalen Duren’s first career start came in the city where he spent his only season of college basketball and gave the Pistons an even younger starting unit. Duren, the NBA’s youngest player who turned 19 less than a month ago, started alongside 21-year-old Isaiah Stewart up front and with Killian Hayes, 21, and Jaden Ivey, 20, in the backcourt. But the Pistons – who’ve been supremely competitive on the road over their previous eight games away from home – saw the game slip away from them when Memphis scored 37 points in the third quarter to build a 20-point lead. The Pistons didn’t shoot well (40 percent), turned it over too much (19 for 25 Memphis points) and saw Memphis, one of the NBA’s most physical teams, wreak havoc inside (68 points in the paint) with their cutting ability and lob throwing. For all of that, the Pistons were within eight points at halftime but make some sloppy mistakes to start the second half and trailed by 20 entering the fourth quarter. Duren, who used a strong second half to finish with 10 points and 12 rebounds, took Marvin Bagley III’s spot in the lineup after Bagley scored a combined four points in the first two games of the trip at Miami and New Orleans. If the move was meant to light a fire under Bagley, it seemed to work. Immediately after Bagley checked in midway through the first quarter, he responded with challenge of one shot and a block of another at the rim, then tipped in a Bojan Bogdanovic miss at the other. By halftime, Bagley had 10 points despite going 0 of 3 at the foul line, four rebounds, an assist and three blocked shots. He finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
RIPPLE EFFECTS – With Jalen Duren moving into the starting lineup and Killian Hayes picking up two fouls in the game’s first two minutes, Dwane Casey’s rotation pattern from recent games was scrambled. He went to Rodney McGruder to soak up minutes when he had to get Hayes out of the game so early. The bench had scored 55, 54 and 54 points in its last three games, fueled in part by Saddiq Bey’s rebound and his embrace of a move to the bench. This time it was Marvin Bagley III and Kevin Knox who got the bench rolling. Knox scored 13 first-half points – he finished with XXXX – without missing a shot, going 3 of 3 from three, hitting a half-hook in the lane and making both his free throws. While Knox was hitting all three of his first-half triples, his teammates were a combined 2 of 18. Saddiq Bey, averaging 21 a game off the bench over his last three games, hitting just 2 of 10 shots and 1 of 4 triples.
HAYES FRUSTRATED – One of the reasons Killian Hayes maintained a foothold in the rotation even when he struggled to open the season – besides the obvious that he’s 21 and the Pistons are still heavily invested in the No. 7 pick from the 2020 draft – was that Hayes’ defense and playmaking helped offset his scoring difficulties. Hayes has turned his shooting around over the last month, shooting 43 percent overall and 41 percent from the 3-point line as a starter largely since Cade Cunningham went out, but he hasn’t done so at the expense of his defense or playmaking. In fact, since Hayes moved into the starting lineup Nov. 12, no one in the NBA had accumulated more deflections than Hayes’ 48 going into Friday’s game. Hayes had a frustrating night at Memphis, though he still managed five assists and two steals in 19 foul-plagued minutes. In addition to picking up two fouls in the first half and having to sit the rest of the first quarter, he picked up two more fouls in the first four minutes of the third quarter and again had to sit. His fifth foul came early in the fourth quarter.