Crunch-time roles remain 'fluid' as Pistons forge paths to victory

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Washington, D.C. — At the end of overtime period of Sunday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets, it wasn’t the Pistons’ starting lineup that was on the floor. Instead of Cory Joseph at point guard, it was Killian Hayes, and Kelly Olynyk, who hit the winning shot, was in at center.

Coach Dwane Casey has emphasized in the past that it’s not as important who starts a game as who finishes it, and he’s not afraid to shuffle things if there’s something that he sees or a situation that he wants to test.

Pistons guard Killian Hayes (7) manages to keep the ball away from Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) during the first half on Saturday in Detroit.

Hayes, though, impressed Casey with his defense and being locked in with the game plan.

“Well, there's probably one or two positions that are probably like that, fluid, so to speak. But the other night, I just felt like Killian was playing one of his better cerebral games, handling the ball, making plays, defending,” Casey said. “I thought he did as good a job as you can do a (Terry) Rozier, standing in front of him and using his size.

“Corey is a little nicked up a little bit and so that kind of led to that decision too.”

It’s not always the starters, but it’s a good bet that Cade Cunningham, Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey will be on the floor. Situationally, with the Pistons on offense, it made sense for Olynyk to be available, as he neared his season high with 20 points.

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Isaiah Stewart has been playing well on both ends of the court, but in that last-second situation, it was more likely that Olynyk would get a good shot opportunity, and that came to pass.

“One or two spots in that group probably will be a little fluid. ... We need to find out who is our trigger man taking the ball out of bounds,” Casey said. “As simple as that sounds, we're still trying to find that person, whether it's Kelly or Cory or Killian, who that person is. So, if we get into one of those situations, we'll probably be experimenting with that position also.”

Hayes had a good balanced game, with six points, seven rebounds, seven assists and just two turnovers. It’s a building block for Hayes, who was added to the second unit to help work on his consistency.

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The initial signals are good, but he also understands the importance of making his mark in his time on the court — whenever it comes.

“If you play well during the game, there's obviously a higher chance of finishing it,” Hayes said. “So, my goal is just to play well and make sure I'm in there.”

Unsung Stewart

The Pistons have seen some improvements over the past couple of weeks, and it’s been mostly a combined team effort that has helped in that boost. One of the unsung heroes in that jump has been Isaiah Stewart, who has improved his game in more ways than show up on the stat sheet.

Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart scores against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half.

"Everybody else is talking about all the scoring and shooting. Isaiah Stewart is taking one of the biggest leaps on our team in his role — screening, understanding how to screen and when (to) screen, the highway screen,” Casey said. “He's taking advantage of switches in the post, so he's grown leaps and bounds in his role. When we switch, he's probably one of our best one-on-one defenders, believe it or not, at any position.

“So, he has really taken a level of growth that is really good. We just talked about this morning as a coaching staff how well he's been performing and doing the little things.”

Stewart finished with seven points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, and his defense was even better than the offense.