'Unbelievable' Sekou Doumbouya's monster game highlights Pistons' exhibition win

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
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Detroit — The Pistons and Knicks matched up Sunday for the second time in three nights, finishing their preseason mini-series. The Knicks won the opener, 90-84, but the Pistons made some adjustments for the finale.

Unlike the sloppy first game Friday, the Pistons were a bit sharper and raced out to a 10-point lead at halftime. They lost the lead but held on to take a 99-91 victory at Little Caesars Arena.

Detroit forward Sekou Doumbouya tries to drive past New York guard Frank Ntilikina during the second half.

Sekou Doumbouya had 23 points and five rebounds, Derrick Rose 11 points and eight assists and Blake Griffin 10 points, six rebounds and three assists for the Pistons (1-1 in preseason). Rookie Killian Hayes finished with six points, five rebounds and four assists, and bounced back after a tough debut Friday.

"Sekou was unbelievable tonight. I was so happy and proud of him and came in and played exactly how he knows how to play. He was very decisive, worked off the ball and played defense and did all these things," Griffin said. "These guys are the future of this franchise. Derrick and I talk about it all the time. It's our job to bring them along and I was just proud of how they all played tonight, but I thought Sekou was special." 

BOX SCORE: Pistons 99, Knicks 91

The Pistons led by 10 at halftime but the Knicks (1-1) jumped ahead with a 20-6 run in the final minutes of the third quarter. Doumbouya scored the Pistons’ final eight points of the period and it was 75-75 entering the fourth quarter.

The Knicks scored on their first possession but Doumbouya scored another basket and Josh Jackson (nine points) hit a 3-pointer to give the Pistons the lead for good.

Observations

►The rook: There was some hand wringing about Killian Hayes’ debut, highlighted by seven turnovers and some sloppy play. Much of it could be chalked up to rookie jitters in playing his first game. Some of it was that Hayes was guarded by some very good defenders in the New York Knicks’ Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina.

Even Hayes refused to make excuses for his poor play, admitted that he got sped up a little bit by the pace of the NBA game.

Throw all that out the window.

Detroit guard Killian Hayes drives to the basket in the first half.

In Sunday’s rematch against the Knicks, Hayes looked much more like the high-level prospect that general manager Troy Weaver envisioned when he took Hayes with the seventh overall pick in the draft.

Hayes looked more relaxed and played with a better rhythm, finishing with five points two rebounds and two assists in the first half on Sunday. More than that, he looked to have a better feel for how to play defensively, turning the tables on the Knicks’ guards and making it tough on them on that end of the court. Hayes was fighting through screens and making plays in transition — some of the flashes that were highlights of his court awareness and basketball IQ that Weaver and coach Dwane Casey had spoken so highly about in the lead-up to the season.

"(He played well) defensively and did not turn the ball over — that's growth and that's what we were looking for, more so than points," Casey said. "The shooting is going to come, as long as we take the right shots. Right now we're taking the right shots.

"Killian as impressive the way he came in, not turning the ball over. They tried to blitz him and he handled the blitzes much better tonight and moved the ball." 

It’s still early in the season and just as he had a tough game in the opener, he could be due for some duds as the regular season gets closer. There have been enough flashes that validate what all the fuss was about with Hayes and watching how he develops as a rookie will be a bright spot for the Pistons this season.

Hayes had no turnovers in Sunday’s game.

►Bench boost: The second unit provided a nice boost when they got in the game midway through the first quarter. Doumbouya scored on a drive to the basket and a couple of possessions later, hit a 3-pointer. He was fairly quiet in the opener, so the relative outburst was good to see, helping to turn the tide, part of a 14-6 run to end the period and push the Pistons to a 31-20 lead.

Derrick Rose looked to be in midseason form, with eight points and five assists in the first half. It wasn’t about the numbers, though — he had his typical burst from the perimeter but also hit a couple of jumpers. One of his best assets is his ability to create opportunities off his drives, and he was near his best, getting by the Knicks defenders with ease.

The Pistons used 12 players in the first half and all 12 who had time in the first half scored. Casey said before the game that he wanted to see how they handled their wind and whether they tired quickly, as some of them did on Friday. That didn’t seem to be the case, as they managed the minutes well, with Griffin, Hayes and Plumlee topping out with 14 minutes.

Detroit head coach Dwane Casey argues with official Lauren Holtkamp in the first half.

►More Sekou: Doumbouya was the biggest revelation for the Pistons on Sunday. He went 2-of-4 on 3-pointers but made more of an impression by cutting and getting to the rim for easy baskets.

It’s a nice reprise to the highlight week from last season, when he posted a career-best 24 points and played well against some of the top power forwards in the game, including Draymond Green and LeBron James.

"It's his cutting without the ball. He just didn't stand out there and hope the ball found him; he cut to the right spots, the open spots. That's who he is," Casey said. "That's what he did last year when he had that good two weeks during the season. He was cutting without the ball moving without the ball."

Doumbouya, 19, still is developing his game, but did many of the little things that could earn him more playing time moving forward. He played mostly with the second group and although Casey is looking to spread the playing time, Doumbouya made a positive step with his play on Sunday. 

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►Zoning in: Casey employed a 2-3 zone in the first half, which seemed to catch the Knicks off guard. The Pistons had some breakdowns in their man-to-man defense but in the zone, they were able to create some turnovers, which led to easy baskets in transition on the other end.

It’s an interesting wrinkle to work in to augment the defensive schemes, and Casey wouldn’t use it unless he felt comfortable with the players’ ability to make it work effectively. Griffin was vocal in getting everyone in their spots.

Playing a zone also buys some time while the new players learn each other’s tendencies in man-to-man and until they can get all the defensive calls and principles installed.

►For starters: Casey kept the same starting lineup, with Hayes, Delon Wright, Jerami Grant, Griffin and Mason Plumlee. He had hinted that he might try something different but stuck with Wright as the second guard. It’s an effort to take some of the pressure off Hayes. Wright typically is a penetrating, pick-and-roll combo guard and getting that chemistry with Hayes will be critical.

There’s an argument that Svi Mykhailiuk could be an option as the shooting guard, as a better 3-point option, which could come to fruition at some point. Casey, who coached Wright when the two were with the Raptors, has some comfort level with Wright and there’s no rush to put one or the other in at this point.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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