'Rusty' Smith looks regain pace, place with Pistons
Detroit — As his time away from the court kept adding days, Pistons guard Ish Smith was getting more and more frustrated.
Beyond not playing, he had the added burden of deciding what to wear. If he wasn’t going to wear jersey, he had to find something nice to wear on the bench. But even that lost some of the luster.
“I’m tired of those suits — that means I’m not playing,” Smith joked.
Smith said he took one suit on the four-game western trip but wasn’t able to return until the finale, a 100-94 loss against the Jazz on Monday. He finished with eight points and two assists in 19 minutes and gave a boost to the second group but wasn’t up to his normal level.
“It was cool. We didn’t get the win, so I was a little frustrated. There were some things in the second half I should have changed,” Smith said. “I’m surprised I was able to move and the second half was actually better than the first half. At the end of the day, we have to execute down the stretch and make some plays and some big shots — and we didn’t.”
Smith suffered a torn right adductor and missed 19 games, which coincided with the Pistons’ slide, as they won just five games during that span. Smith had been the picture of durability, missing just one game during the previous two seasons with the Pistons.
That’s what made the five-week hiatus harder for Smith to endure. He was able to be around the team, but just sitting on the bench in suits and rooting instead of being in the lineup isn’t quite the same.
As he worked his way back, Smith was able gradually to increase his basketball activities, but it was frustrating to have to work his way back into playing shape. He had been injury-free for most of his career and found himself in a different mental space.
“When you realize you haven’t had the game of basketball in five weeks, you miss it,” Smith said. “I had a lot of restrictions and couldn’t even pick up a ball, just form shooting. Some days, I could only do a little.”
Things came full circle for Smith with his first game back, but it was just a first step in helping the Pistons get back into playoff form. Still, coach Dwane Casey was happy to have Smith back, as the spark plug of the reserve group.
“He was a little rusty. (He missed) a lot of those little floaters he normally makes,” Casey said. “I didn’t expect a lot out of him. With the altitude and the number of games he missed, he competed at a high level.”
Smith hopes he’ll snap back into his regular role, but it all starts with a faster pace — his trademark with the second group. The eye test showed that the Pistons played a little faster, but it’ll benefit the rest of the reserves when Smith is back at full strength. It started against the Jazz but likely will gradually get back to normal.
“We just have to play with pace. In the first half (against Utah), we scored 59 and played with pace and when we do that, we’re really good,” Smith said. “In the second half, we missed some shots we usually make. Blame it on the end of the road trip.”
Having watched from the sideline for about five weeks, Smith had a close view of some of the issues facing the team’s production but with the second half of the season ahead, he’s optimistic about what they can do — especially with the roster getting him and Zaza Pachulia back to bolster the bench unit.
“We’re going to be good this year — I’m telling you. You can mark it down right now,” Smith said. “We’re going to fight, continue to push and continue to press, and we’re going to be exactly where we want to be at the end of the year.”
The Pistons’ two newest members Isaiah Whitehead and Kalin Lucas, who were added on two-way contracts Tuesday, joined the team and sat behind the bench on Wednesday.
Casey said he wasn’t sure if either would be playing with the Pistons this season, but their additions brought depth at point guard.
... Rookie guard Khyri Thomas was a late scratch because of a sore lower back. His playing time had surged in the last three games but after suffering a fall in the Utah game on Monday, he wasn't able to play after going through pregame warm-ups.