Cunningham clutch late as Pistons close out Pacers, 97-89
Detroit — The final minutes of the game are slowly becoming Cade Cunningham’s time.
For a rookie, he’s showing a poise late in close games that is making all the hype surrounding his selection as the No. 1 pick even more palatable.
Cunningham took control of the offense and helped spur a late finish for the Pistons in a 97-89 win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena.
The victory continued the streak of alternating wins and losses for the Pistons over the last six games, but it was a needed positive after a deflating 22-point loss to the Sacramento Kings on Monday.
Cunningham hit two critical drives down the stretch to help get the Pistons the lead, and Cory Joseph had his best game of the season with 18 points and five rebounds for the Pistons (4-10). Jerami Grant closed out the final minutes with five points during a critical stretch, and Isaiah Stewart added a pair of free throws in the final minute to help put the game away.
"We just executed the game plan. We came out mentally prepared to compete. We played together, smarter and harder,” Cory Joseph said. "We just stayed mentally locked in — that's what it comes down to with us. We played with a lot of energy ... in this league, it's hard to win; you can't play hard and not smart."
Grant finished with 19 points and three rebounds, Cunningham 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists and Saddiq Bey 15 points and six rebounds.
The Pacers (6-10) led, 82-80, with 6:38 left but Cunningham hit a fadeaway jumper and Joseph followed with a 3-pointer, and Cunningham had another drive for a five-point lead. Caris LeVert (18 points) kept the Pacers in it with two 3-pointers, before Grant was able to put the game away in the final three minutes.
"We know what Cory can do, and when he's playing like this, we're a great team,” Grant said.
Although the Pistons had struggled to see their shots fall in late situations, it was a different finish, with Grant acting as the conduit for a win with key baskets in the final minutes. It’s a different finish than the Kings game, but it showed a different side than the Pistons have shown in most games this season.
"The way we're shooting it right now, we'd better be resilient,” coach Dwane Casey said. “At some point, I know our shots are going to fall."
The Pistons rallied just before halftime, with an 8-0 run in the final 3:00, with a drive by Grant, a dunk by Bey, a hook by Stewart and two free throws by Cunningham, for a 49-41 lead entering the third quarter.
Jerami Grant started another quick run, with four points in the first three minutes of the second half, but LeVert, who was scoreless in the first half, got going in the third quarter. He hit nine straight Indiana points and his 3-pointer at the 7:46 mark shaved the lead to 57-53.
Grant answered with a pair of free throws, but Domantas Sabonis got going, scoring six consecutive points, tying it at 59.
The Pacers took their first lead since the first quarter with an 8-1 spurt, with a 3-pointer by Malcolm Brogdon (20 points, five rebounds and four assists), a putback by Sabonis and a free throw by Myles Turner (15 points and 11 rebounds) for a 67-64 margin.
The Pistons got back into it with a push from Bey, who had eight straight Detroit points, including a pair of 3-pointers. The Pacers answered with a lay-in by Torrey Craig and on the ensuing possession, T.J. McConnell got a steal on the inbounds pass, and they moved ahead, 73-72. Bey split a pair of free throws to make it 73-73 entering the fourth quarter.