Undermanned Pistons hang tough, fall late to Heat, 115-112

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Miami — Things can change in a hurry in the NBA, and never as much as this season, with COVID protocols altering rosters day by day.

The Pistons had to adjust to sudden flux just before their matchup against the Miami Heat, as four of their rotation players were placed in the league’s health and safety protocols in the hours before tip-off.

Detroit Pistons guard Hamidou Diallo (6) goes up for a shot over Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent (2) during the first half.

Although the Pistons were without starters Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes, as well as guards Saben Lee and Rodney McGruder, they stayed close to the Heat, and even led by double digits in the first half.

In the fourth quarter, they couldn’t withstand a late run by the Heat, and they fell in the final seconds of a 115-112 loss on Thursday night at FTX Arena.

The absences pushed Trey Lyles and Cory Joseph into the starting lineup, and they responded with superlative performances. Lyles finished with a career-high 28 points, eight rebounds and four blocks, and Joseph 21 points, six rebounds and nine assists for the Pistons (5-26).

“Unfortunately, it's the times we're living in today. It's still a pandemic, very much so,” said Joseph, who tied his career high with five 3-pointers. “It's unfortunate, and we're going to call those guys and keep checking up on them to make sure their health is good.

“All the other guys, we just have to step up and be ready to play, which we did a good job with today. It's just the start; we've just got to keep on building. We played fast and played free, and we've just got to continue to play that way.”

BOX SCORE: Heat 115, Pistons 112 

The Pistons had a late lead, 110-105, with 2:40 left after a 3-pointer by Saddiq Bey, but the Heat rallied behind Kyle Lowry, who scored on consecutive drives. Tyler Herro followed with a 3-pointer with 1:12 left and the Heat regained the lead.

Bey kept the Pistons in it with a fadeaway jumper at the 59.2 mark, to tie it at 112, but Max Strus hit a tough, contested 3-pointer that put the Heat ahead to stay. Joseph had a good look at a potential tying 3-pointer, but it was off the mark.

“Cory Joseph was amazing tonight. Not only did he play 42 minutes, but he pushed the pace all night,” acting coach Rex Kalamian said. “I couldn't even call play a few times. Every time the ball came off the rim or went through the net, he was racing it up the floor.”

The Pistons built a 14-point lead in the first half, but the Heat (20-13) closed within 61-55 at halftime, with an 8-0 run to finish the second quarter. Strus got hot from the field, making three straight Miami baskets, including a 3-pointer at the 10:37 mark that matched back-to-back 3-pointers by Joseph and Bey (23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists).

Frank Jackson (19 points) added a 3-pointer after Strus’ conversion to push the lead back to eight. The Heat followed with a 9-2 spurt, with two free throws and a 3-pointer by Gabe Vincent (15 points and seven assists) and a 3-pointer by Lowry.

After a 3-pointer by Jackson and a basket by Lyles, the lead was still four, and another 3-pointer by Lyles kept the momentum going. The Heat answered with back-to-back 3-pointers by Strus and Lowry (21 points and six assists) to take their first lead since the first quarter, 81-80.

“I think we showed that just because we didn't have a lot of guys we were still capable of competing,” Lyles said. “Miami had to play their best basketball and they hit some big shots at the end just to beat us by three. I think we played really well the whole game and we showed what we're capable of doing.”

The Pistons got a three-point play from Jackson, but Heat veteran Udonis Haslem made a big contribution. Haslem, in his 19th season, had seven points in the third quarter, and helped push the Heat, with his three-point play and a turnaround to put Miami ahead, 86-85. Lowry finished the third quarter with a drive and finish with 0.1 seconds left for an 88-87 lead heading into the final period.

Herro, who scored 20 of his 29 points in the first half, picked things up in the fourth quarter. He hit a jumper and after a lay-in by Omer Yurtseven, Herro had a steal and dunk, igniting an 8-0 run and extending their lead to 94-89.

“I think down the stretch, we just didn't do enough of the details. Everybody that was on the court, a couple of the help situations, we should have been there. All of us,” Joseph said. “We didn't get those down the stretch and within those last three minutes, that's when all the details really matter. We didn't get to take care of all of those, but we'll look at the film and learn from it.”