'Overwhelmed' Pistons wilt under Nuggets' offensive might, lose seventh straight
Denver — The Pistons hung around for a while.
In the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, they were within single digits with the Denver Nuggets, who have the second-best record in the Western Conference. After beating the Nuggets in overtime on Feb. 2 at Little Caesars Arena, staying close wasn’t farfetched.
That was a different Pistons roster; this version doesn’t have the same offensive firepower, since parting with some veterans and committing to a rebuild and using younger players.
The Nuggets rode a 15-5 run to pull away and take a 115-98 victory on Tuesday night at Pepsi Center. It’s the seventh straight loss for the Pistons (19-41), who next play at Phoenix on Friday.
Christian Wood had 20 points and nine rebounds, Derrick Rose 20 points and five assists, and Brandon Knight 14 points.
They’re one of the best teams in the league and their defense gave us problems. I like some of the spurts we had but against good teams, you can’t have ‘Oh, my bad,’ (mistakes),” coach Dwane Casey said. “We had wide-open all over the place and missed some kick-outs. Against a team like this, we have to convert those. In the first half, we had so many defensive breakdowns with guys rotating late.
“A lot of it is youth, the speed of the game and the talent Denver has overwhelmed us in the first half.”
The Nuggets (40-18) had a 10-point lead after the third quarter and the Pistons closed to 84-75 on a 3-pointer by Sekou Doumbouya but the Nuggets surged with nine straight points, all by Jerami Grant, who had a career-high 29 points, and Michael Porter Jr. (13 points and eight rebounds). Grant had back-to-back dunks and Porter hit a 3-pointer and a jumper.
Wood converted a floater to end the run, but the lead later ballooned to 19 after a jumper by Grant and a lay-in by Porter. The lead never got below double digits the rest of the way.
With the youth movement in full swing, Casey is dealing with the mistakes and is trying to be patient with the young players as they learn to play the way he wants.
Rose had seven of his points in the third quarter, including five during a 9-0 run that got the Pistons within 65-59 at the 5:47 mark. The Nuggets answered with a tip-in by Paul Millsap and a 3-pointer by Gary Harris. Grant got going with a dunk and a 3-pointer, but Knight had a pair of 3-pointers and another by Langston Galloway (12 points) helped get within 82-72 entering the final period.
Knight, a nine-year veteran, is taking the reins as one of the leaders and is seeing some progress.
“I love it, just to be able to see (the youth movement). This is where dreams come true, little chances like this,” Knight said. “They’re not taking it for granted. Just to be able to see them come out and really embrace the moment and set themselves up for the future is important.
“These games, these minutes — even if it’s just five or 10 — can set you up for the future. They’re embracing it and I’m just trying to help them along the best I can.”
► Casey used all 12 available players — Bruce Brown was out because of a sore knee — in the first half. With offensive struggles in the starting group in the past two games, they used the 29th different starting lineup, with Rose, Svi Mykhailiuk, Tony Snell, Wood and John Henson.
“We were trying to find somebody that's going to compete at a high level,” Casey said. “I mean, I know we've got a lot of youth and I thought we were in Grand Rapids a couple of times.”
► Knight made all of his field goals from beyond the 3-point line, going 4-of-9 for the game. Knight went 3-of-7 from beyond the arc in Sunday’s loss at Portland and is finding a good groove as he’s taken over most of the minutes as backup point guard, since Reggie Jackson’s departure.
► Rookie Donta Hall made his Pistons debut in the second quarter, after signing a 10-day contract last week. Hall looked good in his 14 minutes, with a tough defensive assignment in guarding Nikola Jokic. He finished with four points and four rebounds, with a putback in the final seconds and a pair of free throws in the second quarter.
► Derrick Walton Jr. also made his Pistons debut, checking in late in the first quarter. He was paired with Knight in the second unit, with Walton playing as the shooting guard. Casey likes lineups with two ball-handling guards and with that pairing, the Pistons were able to put together a 9-0 run.
► After recovering from a broken toe, Khyri Thomas played with the Pistons for the first time since Nov. 6. He had played only two games this season but made his return Tuesday and got 13 minutes. He hit a 3-pointer late — his first field goal of the season — but simply getting back on the court after months of rehab was a positive step.