Cade Cunningham has quiet debut as bench powers Pistons to first win
Detroit — The waiting for Cade Cunningham is over, and so is the wait for the Pistons’ first victory of the season.
Cunningham didn’t have gaudy numbers in his NBA debut, but the second unit helped end the Pistons' four-game losing streak to start the season with a tough 110-103 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Cunningham, the No. 1 overall pick, had a tough night offensively, shooting just 1-for-8 from the field and missing all five of his 3-point attempts. He finished with two points, seven rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes.
“I think it was good. (It felt good) coming in and just being able to make some plays off the ball, get some rebounds,” Cunningham said. “I feel I was solid defensively, and those are the points that I really wanted to come out and just prove to myself that my ankle was straight and I could move, guard, and do everything well.
“I got all the jitters out now, and now I can just go and play freely.”
The reserve group was the story, combining for 59 points, including a decisive run bridging the third and fourth quarters that got the lead up to double digits. Kelly Olynyk had 18 points, six rebounds and four assists, Josh Jackson added 13 points and seven rebounds and Trey Lyles scored 12.
The score was tied at 70 with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter before Jerami Grant (22 points, seven rebounds and five assists) hit a 3-pointer. Josh Jackson followed with another 3-pointer and a dunk, sparking a 12-0 run. Moritz Wagner hit a 3-pointer to trim the Pistons’ lead to 82-73 heading into the fourth quarter.
“The bench played well. I thought the bench had a sense of urgency when they came in the game. Just getting that group back together was important for us,” coach Dwane Casey said. “They've been disjointed just because of injuries. So, they're not a well-oiled machine yet either, the way they were at the beginning of training camp.
“We have a lot of work to do, a lot of teaching, learning from my mistakes, from the situations that the game presents, and grow from there.”
The Pistons (1-4) opened the fourth with six straight points, including drives by Frank Jackson and Olynyk and two free throws from Lyles. The Magic (1-6) followed with a pair of 3-pointers, but the Pistons had an answer, with a drive by Josh Jackson and a dunk by Lyles.
The spurt ended up as a 15-8 run for the Pistons, with a 3-pointer by Olynyk and a dunk by Lyles, for a 97-81 margin with 7:05 remaining. The Magic got within 103-91 with 2:56 remaining after 3-pointers from Cole Anthony (15 points and 10 rebounds) and Mychal Mulder, but Saddiq Bey (13 points) answered with an alley-oop and gave the Pistons a comfortable margin.
“I thought we won the game, but I don’t think we played particularly smart. You've got to close out quarters in this league, and that's our standard,” Casey said. “We're trying to build something, not just to win a game. We've got to build winning habits, and I thought tonight we had situations that were not winning habits, especially to close quarters.”
The Magic finished the second quarter with a 7-0 run, almost erasing the Pistons’ 48-40 margin heading into the final minute.