Saddiq Bey
(Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

‘Things just start to click’ – Pistons surge continues with OT win

The fact the Pistons had lost 15 straight games to a Charlotte Hornets team that made zero playoff appearances during the life of that streak wasn’t what drove the Pistons to summon the energy for a road win despite playing a back to back. A handful of their players, after all, were in high school when that streak began and most have been part of very few of those 15 games.

No, it was what occurred a lot more recently than that. The last two times the Pistons played Charlotte – Jan. 5 at Charlotte, Feb. 11 at Detroit – the Hornets scored 140 and 141 points against them. And it seemed even worse than that in Saddiq Bey’s recollection.

“Not at all,” he said when asked if the streak was foremost in his mind. “They had like 150 points on us the last game. That’s the only motivation we needed.”

The Hornets, the NBA’s highest-scoring team at 114 points a game, didn’t exactly get stifled by the Pistons in Sunday’s 127-126 road win, but for all their firepower and for everything they threw at Dwane Casey’s team, the Pistons kept throwing haymakers in response this time. And suddenly the Pistons look like they’re going to play spoiler for the final quarter of the season ahead.

It started with a win at Boston on the eve of the All-Star break, snapping a nine-game Celtics winning streak, and has continued with two more wins in three games coming out of the break.

“We’ve done a really good job of being together and pulling rope in the same direction,” said the hero of the night, Kelly Olynyk. “Sometimes you have a young team and everybody’s trying to find their way and their niche and it’s a rollercoaster. It’s tough. You get to a point where things just start to click.”

Olynyk, who missed 33 games with a knee injury and then another four with COVID-19 that knocked him for a loop and clearly affected him for two weeks after his return, is a big part of that clicking sound you hear around the Pistons. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and then hit the dramatic game-winner at the overtime buzzer, finishing with 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals in 24 minutes.

Olynyk’s game-winner – the first of his nine-year NBA career – came on a 14-footer along the baseline. Killian Hayes inbounded the ball along the sideline with 2.1 seconds to play and stayed patient when Saddiq Bey, the first option, wasn’t available.

“It was a really good play,” Olynyk said. “Kudos to coach Casey. We run those end-of-game plays ad nauseum. We had a play in our pocket. It was a difficult play, but you have to read and react and I saw an opening and obviously Kilian saw it, as well. That’s half the battle.”

“That was exciting to see,” Casey said. “Another game ball goes to Killian Hayes to see the second option. His patience, his poise in that situation was huge.”

The Pistons are going to be in danger of depleting their supply if they give out game balls to all who contributed to this win. Bey scored 28 with eight rebounds. Jerami Grant scored seven of his 26 in overtime, which saw the Pistons trail by five points and never lead until Olynyk’s buzzer beater. Cade Cunningham again overcame foul trouble to finish with 19 points, five rebounds and six assists, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Pistons from behind. Hayes finished with seven assists and earned Casey’s trust to finish the game and be in position to make the winning set-up.

“It was a great team effort,” Bey said. “It was a great NBA game. It was just fun to be a part of.”

“I was really proud of our guys,” Casey said. “Twenty lead changes. For us to stay resilient … I think we got down five in overtime. A month ago, we’d have probably hung our head. But we stuck together.”

Among the other contributors were Isaiah Stewart with seven points, 11 rebounds and terrific interior defense, Hamidou Diallo with 13 points and six boards off the bench and Isaiah Livers, the rookie making only his second NBA appearance and knocking down 2 of 4 from the 3-point arc.

“I think Isaiah’s going to be a player,” Casey said. “He’s a shooter and you can’t get enough of those guys who stretch the floor. I like his size. He’s smart. He has the whole package.”

“You can literally go top to bottom,” Olynyk said of the widespread credit to be shared. “It just feels good. It was a good game, start to finish, not only to be a part of but just to watch. That was a good basketball game.”