Cade Cunningham
(Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

Third quarter bedevils Pistons again at New Orleans

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Friday night’s 109-93 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center

THIRD-QUARTER THUD – Dwane Casey has talked about changing up the Pistons halftime locker room routine to address sluggish starts to third quarters. He got another bit of encouragement to act on that in the loss to New Orleans, when Casey had to call a timeout less than two minutes into the half with the Pelicans on a 7-0 run to wipe out a one-point halftime lead. The Pistons, who lost their 11th straight, made just 1 of 13 shots to open the quarter as the Pelicans, who trailed by 15 early in the second quarter, went up by 15 by outscoring the Pistons 19-3 over the first seven minutes of the second half and 29-12 in the third quarter. The Pistons scored 43 points in the game’s first 16 minutes to build their 15-point lead, then scored just 24 points over the next 20 minutes. The game spun out of control from there with New Orleans pushing its lead to 25 points three minutes into the fourth quarter. After hitting 6 of 9 3-pointers to open the game, the Pistons finished 12 of 37. Brandon Ingram scored 24 of his 26 points in the first half for New Orleans. Trey Lyles scored 18 points off the bench for the Pistons, hitting 7 of 8 shots.

NO. 1 – The game pitted two franchises that are staking their rebuilding projects around two of the NBA’s past three overall No. 1 picks, New Orleans with Zion Williamson in 2019 and the Pistons with Cade Cunningham in 2021. Except the Pelicans didn’t have Williamson in the lineup – just as they haven’t had him in the lineup for 89 of a possible 174 games since drafting him. Two things about that: Nearly every general manager in the NBA would have used the No. 1 pick on Williamson had they won the lottery that year – there was some sentiment for Ja Morant, but it was overwhelmingly Williamson as the favorite – but, at the same time, long-term health was always the concern with Williamson given his body type and the extreme stress on his joins his explosiveness causes. Remember the axiom: availability is the best ability. Cunningham missed the first four games of his rookie season with a sprained ankle and a fifth as a precaution, but his injury history is otherwise clean and he’s answered the ball for the last 19 straight games. Like his team, Cunningham started well – he had seven points and three assists in 10 first-quarter minutes – and tailed off from there. He finished with 16 points and four assists.

THAT HURTS – Jerami Grant came in playing his best basketball of the season, averaging 24.7 points and 6.0 rebounds on 44 percent 3-point shooting over his last six games. But Grant’s right thumb bent at an awkward angle when he hit the floor for a loose ball late in the first quarter. When Grant re-entered in the second quarter, the thumb was bandaged for support. Grant was 2 of 4 in the first quarter and finished 5 for 14, hitting a pair of jump shots amid an 11-0 Pistons run in the fourth quarter, though he did block four shots. After averaging 22.3 points per game last season, Grant came into Friday’s game averaging 20.5 over 23 games so far this season prior to Friday. Grant, averaging 6.3 free throws a game but 7.9 over the past eight games and making 92.1 percent over that span, didn’t shoot a free throw in 28 minutes. He’s coming off a game where he hit 14 of 15 at the line in Wednesday’s overtime loss to Washington.