'On the same page': Chemistry, rhythm turning into wins for Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Washington, D.C. — There are these little things that are starting to come together for the Pistons in recent weeks. It’s not that the Pistons are becoming world-beaters or that they’ll be streaking toward a late playoff run.

Not even close.

It’s more that there are fewer things going wrong, and the litany of mistakes that they were making previously are decreasing. The result has been three wins in the last four games, including good wins over the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets in overtime.

Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey (41) celebrates a game winning basket by forward Kelly Olynyk.

The improved production includes veterans such as Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk, but it also extends to some of the younger players. It seems to be coming together in the last stretch of the season.

“That's what (the veterans) are here for — they have to help the young players. They've been hurt and there's COVID and all that stuff. We've got to have them to be competitive, and they have to step up — and they did in a big way,” coach Dwane Casey said. “That makes us all feel good to see them come and do what we know that they're capable of doing.

“They hadn't played well in the last two or three weeks, since they came back from COVID, it just seems like they're getting their rhythm back and getting their game condition back to be able to contribute, and it's great to see.”

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Some of it is has to do with improved chemistry and a bigger commitment to just playing for each other. They’ve found a new happy medium, as exemplified in the final play of overtime, when Killian Hayes found Olynyk for the game-winning jumper as time expired.

“Kudos to coach Casey because we run through these end-of-game plays over and over ad nauseum — almost to the point where we're like, ‘Do we have to run this again?’” Olynyk said.  

That frequent repetition in practice — along with getting more of the roster back healthy and playing together — is helping turn some things around. It’s not just about wins and losses; it’s about the eye test, and the Pistons look like a different team than even a month ago.

The chemistry is better, and it showed in the key play.

“We saw an opening, and Killian saw it as well, which is, half the battle — you've got to have both guys on the same page, and that goes back to that connection, that thing where we're kind of pulling the rope in the same direction,” Olynyk said. “We're just on the same page, and that's part of it.”

The win also featured a team effort, with good games from the key players such as Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant and Cade Cunningham, but also streaks from Olynyk, Hamidou Diallo and several others.

“It really makes you feel good to see guys coming together. We're not a finished product at all, and (the Hornets) still shot 50% from the field, so there's a lot of things we can do better defensively,” Casey said. “A lot of things we can do better offensively whether it's spacing, making sure we make the right reads. That's what's encouraging, seeing so many people contribute in different ways. Kilian Hayes contributed six points, but he contributed in so many ways to help us win, other than scoring.”

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Livers finds rhythm 

Lost in the euphoria of the overtime win was a big outing for rookie Isaiah Livers, who played in just his second NBA game. Livers finished with six points and two rebounds in 13 minutes and he went 2-of-4 on 3-pointers.

Detroit Pistons forward Isaiah Livers

Livers has been back and forth between the Pistons and the Motor City Cruise in the G League. Foot issues have made it difficult for him to get frequent playing time, but Casey said that he’s looking for opportunities to give Livers more playing time. That got off to a good start against the Hornets.

“I think Isaiah's going to be a player. He's a shooter, and you can't get enough of those guys that come out and stretch the floor. I like his size and he's smart, so he has the whole package,” Casey said. “He's not a finished product. He's still I think finding his way, coming back from his surgery. His future is going to be bright with us. He's a good addition to our group.”

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On Sunday, Livers played a little more at power forward, and with Marvin Bagley III nursing an ankle injury, the opportunity presented itself. Finding more playing time could be a little tricky, but the early signs are encouraging.

Pistons at Wizards

► Tipoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

TV/radio: BSD-Plus/950

Outlook: The Pistons (15-46) are coming off one of their best wins of the season, an overtime thriller against the Charlotte Hornets. The Wizards (27-33) have lost three of their last four games, but they beat the Pistons on Feb. 14.