'We didn't respond': Cunningham's double-double not enough to lift Pistons past 76ers
Detroit — Crowds usually don’t cheer for a 4-of-14 performance.
Pistons fans were plugged in and trying to will each of Cade Cunningham’s shot attempts into the basket. Even though the stats don’t bear it out, it was a good showing for the rookie. It’s been an uphill climb for Cunningham in the first few games of his NBA career, trying to find a good rhythm and get a few shots to fall.
The climb is getting a little easier as Cunningham gets his feet under him. He knocked some of the rust off and looked more like the No. 1 overall pick — even if the numbers aren’t pretty just yet.
Cunningham finished 4-of-17 from the field but had his first double-double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. He helped the Pistons stay close, but they couldn’t get past the Philadelphia 76ers, 109-98, on Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena.
"I haven't been efficient my first three games, but I'm getting more and more comfortable,” Cunningham said. “My team is encouraging me to get the ball and be me."
It’s the third straight loss for the Pistons (1-7), all by double digits.
Jerami Grant had 27 points, six rebounds and four assists, Killian Hayes 10 points and three rebounds and Saddiq Bey seven points, five rebounds and four assists.
"It's a 48-minute game and we didn't come out with the right energy,” coach Dwane Casey said. “They turned up the defense and we didn't respond."
The Pistons (1-7) were within four entering the fourth quarter, but Georges Niang (14 points) ignited a rally with nine of the Sixers’ next 11 points. Niang scored on a layup, split a pair of free throws, then his back-to-back 3-pointers, to push the lead to 97-82 at the 8:13 mark.
Grant started a 7-0 run with a three-point play and Cunningham made four straight free throws to get within 97-89 at the 6:30 mark. The Sixers put the game away with a decisive 8-0 run, with a turn-around jumper and two free throws from Joel Embiid and a lay-in from Tyrese Maxey (20 points and five assists).
The Pistons led late in the second quarter after a 3-pointer from Hayes and a putback by Bey for a 61-59 lead. Seth Curry (23 points) hit a jumper and Embiid added a pair of free throws for a two-point margin, but Grant finished with a 3-pointer with 30.7 seconds left and Isaiah Stewart got a lay-in to fall with three seconds left for a 66-63 lead.
It was the best half that the Pistons have played all season, but they couldn’t keep the momentum going.
The Sixers (7-2) answered with a flurry to start the third quarter. Embiid (19 points and nine rebounds), Shake Milton and Curry each hit an easy lay-in, starting an 11-2 run, with the lone Pistons basket coming from Cunningham.
“I tell him to keep shooting. The shots he missed tonight, I've seen him make those shots a lot,” center Isaiah Stewart said. “The ones he's missing now will turn into points soon."
The shots weren’t falling early for Cunningham, but the Pistons know it’s a matter of time before they do. As he’s adjusting to having the ball in his hands and being more of a facilitator, he’s learning the process everything going on around the court, which takes time. His shooting, though, isn’t a concern.
Cunningham did get to the free-throw line, going 9-of-10. Until his shooting improves, that will have to sustain him offensively.
"His shot is going to fall; it's a matter of time before he gets his rhythm with the 3-point shot," Casey said
Cunningham started his own flurry with his first career 3-pointer — a heave from the midcourt logo — and added a drive to get the lead down to one. The Sixers had another answer, with Maxey scoring three straight baskets.
Bey’s 3-pointer ended the run, and after baskets from Olynyk and Cory Joseph, the Pistons were within two points. They just couldn’t get enough stops.
Maxey added another 3-pointer and former Piston Andre Drummond (eight points and 10 rebounds) made one of two free throws. Josh Jackson finished the third quarter with two free throws, but the Sixers led, 86-82.
The Sixers were shorthanded, playing without Tobias Harris (health and safety protocols) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons), but their reserves stepped in and provided some quality production.