Struggling Pistons search for consistent effort
If nothing else, the Pistons have been an interesting team to watch — and not just because of the young core and how they might develop. Every night, they seem to find a way to stay in a game, even after falling into an early deficit.
They added another chapter Monday night, with a 28-point deficit against the Utah Jazz and whittling it to a four-point margin in the final minutes. It’s a close-but-no-cigar proposition but seeing how they’re able to stay in games provides some level of encouragement for what the future can hold.
Even when they were chipping away at the lead but had a blown defensive coverage, coach Dwane Casey blew a fuse and called a quick timeout to try to drive the point home about playing hard throughout the game.
“It was the same message in the pregame scout and the same message at halftime,” center Mason Plumlee said. “He calls that timeout and I think we listened maybe the third or fourth time. He just said get back on defense, and when we did that, we gave ourselves a chance.”
The Pistons (5-16) outscored the Jazz, 59-48, in the second half, including 31-25 in the third quarter. They’ve had several games this season in which they’ve had to dig out of huge holes, making it difficult to finish with the same energy.
There was a distinct difference between the energy in the first and second halves, which contributed to the comeback effort. Finding that missing piece is the key to the Pistons turning things around.
“I couldn't tell you specifically (what it was) but, I hope we can play like that for a full game for four quarters,” Plumlee said. “It's nothing spectacular; I just think it's the fundamentals of getting back on defense, competing and playing for the next guy. It's not super-complicated.”
Just playing hard and establishing some consistency seems to be a minimal ask, but it’s where the Pistons are in their rebuild. That means giving the young players such as Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart more playing time and hoping they learn from it.
If that can pay some dividends this season, that’s a big win for the long-term plan.
“That's all we can ask for right now, at this stage of our program, is the compete level, the growth,” Casey said. “I thought the young guys came in and played their hearts out. They played to exhaustion.”
Rose's stomach troubles
Derrick Rose typically is one of the first reserves to enter the game, but as the game progressed and he didn’t enter the game, social media started boiling with thoughts that maybe a trade was in the works.
Not so much.
As it turns out, there was a better reason that Rose didn’t play.
“Derrick had an upset stomach right before the game — nothing to do with anything else,” Casey said. “We were all surprised. The problem was Saben (Lee) was already inactive, so he wasn't available. So, it kind of caught us off guard.”
With Rose’s absence, Rodney McGruder got a chunk of playing time, with five points in 16 minutes, and going 2-of-5 from the field. Rookie Saben Lee was designated as inactive before the Pistons found out about Rose’s issue, so they weren’t able to change it and have him play.
McGruder was a good plug-in at the spot, but it also highlights the importance of keeping Lee with the team and not giving him time in the G League bubble. If that happened, he would have to go through quarantine before re-entering, which could take about a week. They need Lee simply for an injury or illness such as that.
Plumlee had a tall assignment in guarding All-Star Rudy Gobert, who is 7-foot-2. Gobert is a defensive specialist, but he’s a tough scorer and rebounder inside, and he posted nine points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Plumlee was productive in his time, with 17 points and 14 rebounds and going toe-to-toe with Gobert several times.
“I think it’s getting to his body early. He's a shot-blocker, so sometimes that frees up the offensive rebound but on the defensive side, just hitting them a little sooner than I did last game, so it gave me a better chance,” Plumlee said.
Casey liked the energy that Plumlee provided and with a tough matchup, that he stayed on course with the game plan.
“I thought he really came in with a great effort. He had 14 rebounds going against one of his best shot-blockers,” Casey said. “Mason is an excellent job of rebounding and defending in the pick-and-roll. They run about 80 pick-and-rolls a game.
“He did his job defensively there, and he was there any time Gobert went to block shots.”