Without Jerami Grant, Pistons overpowered by Kevin Durant, Nets

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — In their first game the Pistons announced that Jerami Grant will miss at least six weeks because of a thumb injury, they were looking for who would replace the production from their leading scorer.

The answer turned out to not be one person; instead, it was a group effort, with a big hand from the reserves.

The second unit accounted for 48 points, including 25 points from Frank Jackson and 17 from Saben Lee. It wasn’t enough to counter Kevin Durant’s record-setting performance, as the Brooklyn Nets rallied early in the fourth quarter and took a 116-104 victory on Sunday night at Little Caesars Arena.

Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) attempts a layup as Pistons center Isaiah Stewart defends during the second half.

The Pistons didn’t have an answer for Durant, who set a new scoring record for Little Caesars Arena with 51 points, including 16-of-31 from the field, 5-of-10 on 3-pointers, and 14-of-15 from the free-throw line.

Cade Cunningham finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and five assists and Hamidou Diallo, who started for Grant, 11 points for the Pistons (4-22), who lost their 12th straight game.

BOX SCORE: Nets 116, Pistons 104

The difference was the fourth quarter, when the Pistons entered with a five-point lead, but they were outscored, 30-13, in the period. The Pistons shot just 4-of-18 from the field and committed eight turnovers, compared to 10-of-18 shooting for the Nets and just one turnover.

“The thing about it is — it's been an ongoing thing that we talk about all the time — that when you get in the fourth quarter, or whatever period it is, we have a stretch of just ‘What are we doing?’ Pistons coach Dwane Casey said.

“And that's what we've got to grow out of; we've got to learn to finish games. No matter who's out there on the court, we've got to make sure we take care of the basketball.”

In the third quarter, the Pistons had their biggest lead, 73-66, at the 7:47 mark, after an 11-0 run, featuring a 3-pointer and a steal and basket by Lee, who notched six rebounds and six assists. Diallo scored on a tip-in and a three-point play, and Cunningham added a steal and dunk.

For subscribers: Beard: After another blow to Pistons, it's all hands on deck without Grant 

The Nets (19-8), who were playing without James Harden and Kyrie Irving, leaned on their All-Star. Durant scored their next seven points to get within 75-73, but Cunningham countered with a drive to push the margin back to four.

The Pistons took the lead to the fourth quarter, with Jackson scoring their last eight points of the period, including a 3-pointer with 12.7 seconds left, for a 91-86 advantage.

“You could just tell how resilient we were tonight. I think in the past couple of games, we're moving in the right direction,” said Jackson, who had a season-best six 3-pointers.  “We have a lot of guys who just take a lot of pride in just playing hard and playing the right way, so we'll get there. I think we showed a good fight tonight. We've just got to put that fourth quarter together.”

The Nets took control, with a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer from Durant, cutting the margin to three. Cam Thomas (13 points) scored a basket to regain the lead, and Durant added a pair of free throws, completing an 11-0 start to the period.

Stewart split a pair of free throws, as Durant, who also had seven rebounds and nine assists, picked up his fourth foul at the 8:46 mark, but the Nets continued the run, with eight more points, pushing the lead to 105-92. The Pistons looked to stay in the game with their first field goal of the quarter, a 3-pointer by Jackson at the 8:23 mark, to get within 10.

Durant didn’t relent, posting the eighth 50-point game of his career, and hitting a lay-in and jumper in the final two minutes to solidify his milestone performance.

Grant would have been the logical defender for Durant, but beyond what the Pistons missed on the offensive end, the defensive presence is a huge void to fill as well.

“It’s a next-man-up mentality. I mean, obviously, it stinks to not have Jerami out there,” Jackson said. “But we can still play the right way and we can still move the ball and play with the right attitude and I think we're moving in the right direction.”

Lee, who was honored as G League player of the month, had a breakout game, with 7-of-13 shooting, including 2-of-5 on 3-pointers. Casey lauded his play and his ability to help calm things down offensively.

“The G League's helped me a lot, letting me just go out there and be able to play and stay in rhythm,” Lee said. “I wouldn't say it's an easy transition, but just being able to play with conditioning, just feel for the game and then just being able to go into the NBA game.”

The Pistons next are scheduled to play the Bulls on Tuesday in Chicago, but with nine players in health and safety protocols, that game could be in jeopardy.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard