COVID-afflicted Pistons crushed by Spurs

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The Pistons had only nine healthy players available, and they weren’t the only unit that was shorthanded in Sunday’s matchup against the San Antonio Spurs.

There were only two officials for the game, after a last-minute entry into the health and safety protocols. That’s where the NBA is now, in the midst of COVID protocols and the ever-changing status of players, coaches and everything in the league.

Detroit Pistons' Luka Garza (55) attempts to shoot against San Antonio Spurs' Jock Landale during the first half.

Simply fielding a healthy team is proving difficult for the Pistons, who have been depleted by players entering the health and safety protocols. They endured another two players being away from the team, and they simply couldn’t stay with the San Antonio Spurs in a lopsided 144-109 loss on Sunday night at AT&T Center.

It’s the third straight loss for the Pistons (5-27), who have eight players in the league’s health and safety protocols — including Cory Joseph and Josh Jackson, who were added on Sunday. They were so shorthanded that they had more players from their G League roster than from their main roster.

BOX SCORE: Spurs 144, Pistons 109

They had Derrick Walton Jr., who started, along with Cheick Diallo, Deividas Sirvydas, Cassius Stanley and two-way player Jamorko Pickett from the Motor City Cruise and Saddiq Bey, Frank Jackson, Hamidou Diallo and Luka Garza from their roster.

Without most of their rotation, the Pistons still were able to keep things close in the first half, staying within single digits for the first eight minutes before the Spurs’ veteran experience kicked into a different gear and pulled away.

More: Pistons add Josh Jackson, Cory Joseph to health and safety protocols, sign Sirvydis

Acting coach Rex Kalamian applauded his team’s effort, but it made too many mistakes and didn’t have the chemistry to stay with the Spurs.

“Playing hard is a non-negotiable, kind of the way we want to play. We may not play well every night, but we want to play hard every night,” Kalamian said. “It’s hard to play well every night, but it’s easy to play hard every night and that’s what we should do.

“We have a lot of guys who were touching the floor for some NBA minutes for the first time in a long time, and I think we played hard, but we didn’t play necessarily smart so much. That was kind of our problem, that we didn’t share the ball enough in the first half.”

Hamidou Diallo had 28 points, Bey 23 points and eight rebounds and Garza a career-high 20 points in 20 minutes before fouling out with 8:30 left in the fourth quarter. After Cheick Diallo also fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, the Pistons were left with seven available players for the remainder of the game.

“It didn’t matter that we were shorthanded. We had enough to go out there and compete, and unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that consistently throughout the game,” Garza said. “We had stretches where we were good, but there were too many mistakes.

The Spurs (14-18) took the lead for good with a reverse by Jakob Poeltl and a drive by Keldon Johnson (27 points), fueling their hot start, as they went 8-of-13 from the field in the first 10 minutes.

More: Beard: Can pausing season help NBA navigate surge of players in COVID protocols?

Johnson kept the run going with a lay-in, plus a three-point play and a 3-pointer from Jock Landale (18 points), for a 25-16 lead. The Pistons rallied from there, with a 9-5 spurt, with a lay-in and jumper from Jackson and a lay-in from Hamidou Diallo, who went 13-of-19 from the field.

The Spurs finished the quarter with eight points in the final two-plus minutes and a 38-30 lead. In the second quarter, the Spurs pulled away with a 13-3 run in the first four minutes, on the way to a 78-54 lead at halftime, San Antonio’s highest total in a first half this season. @detnewsRodBeard