'We're trying to build the chemistry': Rookie trio helps Pistons top Thunder, 110-104

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit —  After letting a victory slip away in the final minute on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Pistons didn’t let another one get away.

With a revamped starting lineup tilted toward the youth movement, along with several veterans who were resting or injured, the Pistons put a rotation on the floor that accentuated the rebuild, with three rookies.

Oklahoma City Thunder center Moses Brown is defended by Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart (28) during the first half.

Three of those starters scored in double figures and the young reserves helped carry the Pistons the rest of the way in a 110-104 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.

The win ended a three-game losing streak for the Pistons (17-39), and completed a season sweep of the Thunder (20-36).

Josh Jackson had 29 points and seven rebounds, Saddiq Bey 18 points and seven rebounds and rookie Isaiah Stewart added 15 points and a season-best 22 rebounds, the most by a Pistons rookie in a game since Leon Douglas in 1977.

The Pistons surrendered an 11-point lead against the Clippers and had a nine-point lead with 1:41 remaining against the Thunder. There wasn’t a repeat performance this time, with thee young players finding a way to hold on — and even extend the lead — down the stretch.

The lead was 95-94 at the 4:36 mark, but the Pistons scored eight straight points. Frank Jackson (18 points) scored on a coast-to-coast drive and Josh Jackson initially was whistled for an offensive foul — which would have been his sixth and fouled him out — but coach Dwane Casey challenged the foul call and it was overturned, giving Josh Jackson a pair of free throws.

He made both free throws and Stewart made back-to-back baskets to extend the lead to 103-95. Lou Dort (26 points and six rebounds) split a pair of free throws and Josh Jackson scored a basket. Frank Jackson added two free throws, for a 10-point lead with 30.1 seconds left.

The Thunder made it interesting in the final minute, with a four-point play by Dort to get within six. Isaiah Roby made a 3-pointer with 10.6 seconds remaining to trim the lead to four, but they didn’t get any closer, missing a long 3-pointer on the final possession of the game.

Killian Hayes, in his first start since he returned from a hip injury he suffered in January, was good overall, with nine points, four rebounds, seven assists and five steals, though he shot 3-of-10 from the field.

Detroit Pistons guard Killian Hayes controls the ball during the second half.

Stewart had just nine rebounds in the first half and finished with nine offensive rebounds overall, which was more than any Thunder player totaled in the game. He said he didn’t have to keep track of how many boards he had because he had some help.

"My teammates were telling me to keep snagging rebounds,” Stewart said. “They were keeping count.”

Casey said before the game that the Pistons were moving in a direction of giving the young players more opportunities to finish games, to help them in their late-game development, but this was a turn, as he gave them more minutes throughout the game, specifically at the start.

Midway through the third quarter, Hayes had a highlight-reel pass, throwing it almost half the length of the court, with English, ahead to Bey, who was streaking toward the rim and got an easy lay-in.

The pass had a high degree of difficulty and Casey was impressed with the execution.

"That's something that's natural. His growth will be ‘When do I do that and when do I not,’” Casey said. “The only person I've seen make that pass is Jason Kidd — it was a hell of a pass."

The Pistons stayed steady for most of the game and fell behind by 15 points at one juncture but steadied themselves and put together a good finish for a good victory. It was led by the youngest group, which is a good sign for their future.

"Those are guys I'm seeing and continuing to build chemistry with,” Stewart said. “I guess you could say the young core. We're trying to build the chemistry.”

Pistons at Wizards

►Tipoff: 8 p.m., Saturday, Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

►TV/radio: BSD/97.1

►Outlook: Both teams are on the second game of a back-to-back, but the Pistons rested several of their starters for Friday’s game. The Pistons dominated, 120-91, on April 1.