'It comes down to fundamentals': Undermanned Pistons let Spurs pull away late, 106-91

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News

In three games this week, it’s almost like Dwane Casey has coached two different teams.

The Pistons and their coach lost the final two, wrapping up a Texas two-step Thursday with a 106-91 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) drives to the basket past Detroit Pistons forward Sekou Doumbouya (45) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in San Antonio, Thursday, April 22, 2021.

A bevy of veterans sat out the second game in as many nights, and though Josh Jackson tried to carry the young Pistons, his 29 points was not enough.

“It’s no different,” Casey said of coaching a young group versus a more veteran one. “It comes down to fundamentals. The mistakes we made, (allowing) 22 points off turnovers, were fundamental mistakes.

“One-handed passes, trying to squeeze it into places where it’s not there. Making some uncharacteristic, non-fundamental plays and passes that a lot of young players make in this league.”

The Pistons (18-41) also lost Wednesday in Dallas with veterans Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Cory Joseph in the starting lineup.

Those guys didn’t play Thursday, joined on the shelf by Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder and Dennis Smith Jr.

Just like Monday night with many of the veterans out, Jackson started with rookies Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. This time, the group was joined by Sekou Doumbouya instead of Tyler Cook, who had his first career start in the win against Cleveland.

And like Monday, the youngsters started strong. Jackson drilled his first five shots to lead the charge.

“I definitely feel like a veteran now,” said Jackson, who is 24 and in his fourth season. “I feel like my body is taking a little bit of a toll, but I’m having fun.”

However, against the second unit and Jahlil Okafor in the second quarter, the Spurs went to work in the paint.

“(Josh) did a good job tonight scoring the basketball, but we did not do a good job defensively protecting the rim,” Casey said.

All eight baskets in a 16-2 run were scored in the paint as San Antonio took command. The Spurs went to halftime with a 57-47 lead, their largest to that point.

Derrick White carried an undermanned backcourt with 26 points for the Spurs, who are fighting for a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament.

But Bey scored six points, including a four-point play, during a 13-0 Detroit run to pull within three points late in the third quarter. San Antonio closed the third with an 11-2 run to go up 82-70 headed to the fourth.

Okafor and Hamidou Diallo keyed a fourth-quarter run that got the Pistons within one point, but center Jakob Poeltl made a few crucial plays to put San Antonio back in command for good.

Detroit Pistons guard Killian Hayes (7) and San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) chase a loose ball during the second half.

He then knocked down some free throws late as Dwane Casey, his former coach, intentionally put him on the line.

Jackson was 11 for 20 from the field but only 5 of 9 on free throws. The Pistons missed nine free throws and only made eight 3-pointers, tied for their sixth-lowest total of the season.

“He has a very serious approach right now and understands what his role is,” Casey said of the Detroiter Jackson. “In games like this with all the young players, he’s getting the job done in those situations with scoring. With this group, he’s kind of a go-to guy.”

After starting with three rookies and a 20-year-old second-year player, Jackson said he hopes he’s setting the tone for the young group.

“It’s pretty funny, that’s the NBA, guys are coming in every year younger,” Jackson said. “They do kind of gravitate toward me and look to me for answers sometimes. I’m not really a very vocal guy, so I try to lead by example as much as I can.

“I run as fast as I can out there, I dive on the floor for loose balls, I’m always talking and yelling when we’re on defense. I hope they pick up one some things that I do out there and learn from me a little bit.”

After missing Wednesday’s game in Dallas, Hayes scored 10 points and had five assists.

BOX SCORE: Spurs 106, Pistons 91

Frank Jackson scored 14 for the Pistons and Isaiah Stewart had eight points and 13 rebounds.

San Antonio’s Lonnie Walker IV had 18 points, and Poeltl added 17 points and 11 rebounds.

The Spurs, also playing the second game in as many nights, sat out starters Dejounte Murray and DeMar DeRozan, along with reserve stalwart Patty Mills.

The loss helps the draft lottery positioning for the Pistons. Orlando (18-41) also lost Thursday night, and Detroit still has the third-worst record in the league.

The Pistons wrap up a three-game road trip Saturday night at Indiana. Just 12 games remain in the season.

Matt Schoch is a freelance reporter