Cunningham's career-best 25 points a bright spot in lopsided loss to Kings

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Up, down, up, and back down again.

It’s the roller coaster the Pistons are on so far this season, with some good performances followed by poor ones. They had a good win in Houston followed by a horrible loss to the Cavs on Friday, then an impressive bounce-back win Saturday in Toronto.

The pattern continued with a lackluster performance in a 129-107 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena. In the fourth quarter, it looked like it would be the Pistons’ largest margin of defeat this season, a 28-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 2, but they closed the margin.

"We're not as bad as we played tonight, and we're not as good as we played in Toronto," coach Dwane Casey said. “It's so much like the Cleveland game, and we played so bad that game, but we had a bounce-back."

Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham runs into Sacramento Kings forward Chimezie Metu (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Cade Cunningham had a career-best 25 points, along with eight rebounds and eight assists in his best statistical game, but most of that was lost in the lopsided finish. Saddiq Bey added a season-best 23 points and Isaiah Stewart six points and 14 rebounds.

The Pistons (3-10) started 4-of-7 from the field but missed their next 12 shots and fell into a 22-10 deficit at the 3:20 mark of the first quarter. The Kings (6-8) went on a 15-0 run, starting with a drive by De’Aaron Fox (19 points, six rebounds and nine assists) 3-pointer by Tyrese Haliburton (15 points and 10 rebounds) and a hook by Richaun Holmes (19 points and nine rebounds).

Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox attempts a shot after being fouled by Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Cory Joseph ended the drought with a driving lay-in, but the Kings finished the first quarter with a 9-0 run, including a 3-pointer and a jumper by Buddy Hield (22 points).

“(Our start) was one of the worst of the season, and I'll take the blame for it. We talked about being professionals, and we didn't do it enough,” Casey said. “Our starts and our professionalism coming out ready to compete ... (the issue) wasn't the lack of effort; it was the lack of being locked in, ready and focused.”

Cunningham opened the second quarter with a pair of baskets, but the Kings continued their barrage, with back-to-back 3-pointers by Haliburton and Hield, pushing the lead to 42-16. Bey scored the Pistons’ next seven points and Rodney McGruder provided a spark with four points. After another Bey 3-pointer and a dunk by Cunningham, the Pistons were within 49-34 at the 4:40 mark, but the Kings made another big run, scoring 11 straight points, with a 3-pointer and a jumper by Fox and a dunk by Harrison fouls (13 points and six rebounds).

The slow start was tough to overcome, and it’s been a common theme in several games this season.

"Our first group came out too lax and we didn't set the tone the right way, and that carried on throughout that first quarter,” Cunningham said. “You have to try to throw (the first quarter) away, and it's tough to do. Mentally, you have to put that behind you and move on."

Haliburton had another lay-in and 3-pointer and Fox had a 3-pointer down the stretch and the Kings extended their lead to 69-44 at halftime.

Turnovers again were a problem for the Pistons, and at one point in the second quarter, they had as many turnovers (five) as field goals. It was a similar storyline to Friday’s loss to the Cavaliers, when turnovers, poor shooting and bad defense led to a 20-point loss in Cleveland.

Finishing with two wins on the three-game road trip looked to provide some optimism, but that went away quickly in the first quarter.

Bey got going again in the fourth quarter, with a 3-pointer, a free throw and a basket to follow, as they chipped away at the lead. Jerami Grant got his first basket at the 6:47 mark, and the lead was down to 77-60, but the Kings kept extending.

Haliburton scored on a dunk, Chimezie Metu added a dunk and a 3-pointer by Fox got the lead back to 86-60 with 4:16 left. The Pistons didn’t get the lead under double digits the rest of the way.

It’s another reminder that the Pistons are still a young team and there will be some ups and downs in their growth process.

"We're competitive, so we want to win right away, but in my mind, (the mindset is to) keep pushing and keep going," Bey said. “We understand who we are as a young team, and we want to win.”