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No sidekick help for Grant as Pistons spin their wheels on offense in loss to Knicks
Jerami Grant has adjusted beautifully to the transition from role player to No. 1 option. Now the Pistons need somebody to grow into the role of trusted sidekick.
Against a strong defensive opponent – the New York Knicks came in as the NBA’s No. 3 rated defense – the Pistons didn’t have anything approaching a relief valve to take the heat off of Grant and the result was predictable: The Pistons shot 38.4 percent and struggled to avoid their lowest-scoring and worst-shooting game of the season, losing 109-90 to the Knicks.
“We just came in a little bit flat,” Wayne Ellington said. “We didn’t move the ball in the beginning as much as we would have liked. That’s part of the defense that (Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau) preaches. They want to take away the paint. We got into the paint a couple of times, got some shots blocked. That’s all part of the learning process. Once we get into the paint, we’ve got to kick it out and get some open looks.”
Grant didn’t have anything close to one of his best nights, finishing with 21 points on 7 of 19 shooting and 2 of 9 from the 3-point arc. But his 21 points were just five fewer than the four other Pistons in the starting lineup managed. New York’s starters outscored Detroit’s 77-47.
“Too hesitant, for whatever reason,” Dwane Casey said of his starters. “I’ve got to go back and look at it and see what it was, but I think they were the aggressor the entire night – offensively, defensively – and has us on our heels. I don’t think we ever recovered.”
Those other four starters shot 10 of 31. Take away Mason Plumlee’s 4 of 5 from around the rim and the three perimeter players other than Grant shot 6 of 26 overall and 3 of 15 from the 3-point arc.
One of those starters was Svi Mykhailiuk, making his second start. The first came last week when Wayne Ellington was rested at Orlando. This time, Ellington was available – and, in fact, scored 15 off the bench and made more than two 3-point baskets (4 of 6) for the first time since January – but Casey said he made the switch, in part, to try to reinvigorate Ellington.
“Wayne’s been struggling a little bit, but I thought he bounced out of it tonight, relaxed a little bit and just let it fly,” Casey said. “Wayne got going and Svi, I don’t know, 0 for 3. I thought Svi’s defense was decent, but that was the thinking behind it.”
“I didn’t realize it was so long ago,” Ellington said of not having a game with more than two triples in February. “But it felt great to see some shots go in. Wish we played a little bit better and pulled out a (win), but it always feels good to see shots fall.”
Mykhailiuk has struggled with his 3-point shot all season after shooting 40 percent from there in a breakout second season. He hasn’t made more than one 3-pointer in consecutive games after doing it in six straight games in early January.
For all of their offensive misery, the Pistons kept the Knicks at arm’s length for a half. But eventually their offensive shortcomings spilled over to the defensive end, too. The Knicks scored 61 points in the second half when they hit 26 of 37 shots – 70 percent. Julius Randle was a handful, scoring 17 of his 25 in the second half when he, too, hit 70 percent of his shots – 7 of 10.
“He was 3 of 6 from three, so you get him off the block, then you’ve got to guard him at the 3-point line,” Casey said. “That young man is a great example of how guys develop. Reshaped his game and came along. He’s a hard cover.”
Casey took encouragement from his second unit, especially young players like Isaiah Stewart, Josh Jackson and Saben Lee. Jackson hit just 1 of 6, but got to the foul line often enough to hit 10 of 12 free throws. Stewart had 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 28 minutes. Lee had nine points and four assists without committing a turnover.
“I thought the younger group was more competitive, more physical,” Casey said. “You play against New York, you know it’s going to be a meat grinder type of game. You’ve got to meet that – at both ends, not just defensively. You’ve got screen hard and I thought the younger guys did that more consistently than the first unit.”