'The best they've played': Grant, Stewart power Pistons past 76ers in preseason finale
Detroit — The Pistons almost let one get away.
It’s the preseason, so it doesn’t have the same weight of a regular-season game, but blowing a 22-point lead isn’t the taste that the Pistons wanted in their preseason finale either.
The Pistons were ahead comfortably in the third quarter, but they had to hold on in the final minutes of the game to get a 112-108 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.
The Sixers staged a furious rally and tied it at 103 with 4:09 remaining, setting up a hectic finish. The Pistons were up for the task, with Josh Jackson and Luka Garza teaming up to score the last nine points, building on the big scoring nights from Jerami Grant (24 points and eight rebounds) and Isaiah Stewart (17 points and 12 rebounds).
“I was disappointed in our second unit, which has normally (had) the ball movement, taking care of the basketball, extending the lead or setting the tone — and they didn't do that, for whatever reason, tonight,” coach Dwane Casey said. “The first unit really set the tone, moving the basketball, defending, creating the (22-point) lead and I was really happy to see that — that was the best they've played.
In the fourth quarter, the Pistons were clinging to a two-point lead, when Garza entered and brought some energy — following fans chanting “We want Luka!” for most of the game — and he helped close out what the starting group began.
Garza finished with six points and two rebounds in four-plus minutes, sparking the starting group, which was shorthanded of injuries to Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey and Killian Hayes.
The Pistons (2-2) looked to be in a comfortable spot with a 101-93 lead, but the Sixers tied it with a 10-2 run, before Garza entered. Jackson (14 points, five rebounds and six assists) hit a big 3-pointer and Garza was fouled, but he made both free throws, to a rousing ovation.
Garza had another putback at the 1:43 mark, to push the lead to 110-104, and Jackson added a block. Garza hit two more free throws with 28.4 seconds left to help give them some cushion.
Jackson was sizzling on both ends of the court, garnering some praise from Casey about what Jackson’s role might be when the regular season starts Wednesday.
"He's definitely in the rotation with the way he's played, with confidence and defending,” Casey said. “His growth has been tremendous throughout training camp."
Here are some observations from the Pistons’ win:
► Ready to go: Jerami Grant looks to be ready for the regular season, after another good performance in the preseason. Grant had a sterling first half, with 18 points on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting. Grant was effective inside the arc and missed his only 3-point attempt, but he showed that he still has the touch around the rim and that he could get to the rim around contact.
Then, there was the wicked dunk on Furkan Korkmaz in the first half:
Grant went 8-of-8 on free throws, and one of the areas that coach Dwane Casey wanted him to increase his production on was rebounding, and Grant added eight in the game. It’s a different Grant than the one that came to the Pistons before last season.
“(The difference is) knowing the spots I can get to,” Grant said. “Experience, honestly, picking my spots and knowing when to kick the ball out and when to make the right play.”
With so many things that have gone awry on the injury front for the Pistons in the preseason, having Grant deliver solid production has been one of the biggest positives.
► Drummond line: Former Pistons center Andre Drummond played in Little Caesars Arena for the first time since he was traded at the deadline in 2020. Drummond played his first seven-plus seasons with the Pistons and was a two-time All-Star.
In the first quarter, a cluster of fans started booing Drummond every time he touched the ball, part homage and part getting used to him being on an opposing team. Drummond seemed to relish in the attention, joking with fans sitting at courtside.
Drummond was active throughout the game, getting the starting nod while Joel Embiid rested. He was effective, going 7-of-11 for 17 points and seven rebounds through three quarters.
► Stew brewing: Isaiah Stewart had been having a tough time in preseason, but he was back to his rookie form against the Sixers. Stewart had a double-double in 20 minutes of play, posting 11 points and 10 rebounds. He had a tough matchup against Andre Drummond, so being able to carve out double-digit rebounds was good for him.
“To his credit, he fought through it, and he didn't play as well in the (previous) exhibition games,” Casey said. “He just didn't have his pop, his bounce, and I thought he had it tonight with the 12 rebounds. It was really good to see three offensive boards and he really cleaned up the glass and did a good job of converting in traffic.”
Stewart and Drummond had a couple of back-and-forth possessions, where they went at each other in the paint, with Drummond getting an alley-oop after Stewart made a good move and was fouled.
“Andre was a load down there and I thought Isaiah held his own and their other big came in and did a good job, so he was battling somebody with similar size and similar strength, the entire night and held his own,” Casey said. “It seems like he's getting his conditioning and sea legs, his timing, his rhythm and his feel of going to get those balls, and tonight was one of his best outputs.”
► Finding the mark: After a couple of up-and-down preseason games, the Pistons’ shooting found a good groove. They shot 50% in the first half, including 40% (6-of-15). They were getting out in transition and creating some easy opportunities, which made the offense click in the first half.
Even without Cunningham and Saddiq Bey, two of their projected best shooters, the Pistons were able to put 91 points on the scoreboard through the first three quarters, and their defense was good enough to create some breathing room.