Both Nikola Jokic and Mike Malone were ejected for Denver. It did not matter.
Good teams find a way to win.
Bad teams find a way to lose.
You know where the Detroit Pistons fall.
First it was Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone — then later two-time MVP Nikola Jokic — tossed by the officials for arguing calls. It felt like the Pistons finally had luck fall their way, and for a majority of the game, it looked like they might finally snap their 11-game skid.
Then, of course, they didn’t.
Denver locked down in the fourth quarter as the Detroit offense went stagnant and cold, as it often does in the final minutes. Old friend Reggie Jackson scored 21 points to lift the shorthanded Nuggets past Detroit, 107-103.
If you’re pissed, that’s alright. I thought apathy was starting to get to me and this one hit me right in the gut. This loss might have been worse than last night in Toronto.
The moment that sticks out to me is the final real shot Detroit had.
Trailing by three with about 11 seconds remaining, Monty Williams chose to let the Pistons play it out rather than call a timeout to set up a game-tying three. This led to Cade Cunningham trying to score a quick two over Jackson.
He missed the awkward floater and the game was effectively over after Jackson hit a freebie on the other end.
I truly cannot believe Williams, the highest paid coach in the NBA, watched his team make ONE shot in the final NINE minutes of that game and decided letting them figure it out with a quick two was the best decision.
It was a moment where a young team that could not buy a bucket needed someone to help.
Monty decided not to.
Maybe that’s a teaching moment for them. But in the moment, here and now, it was a bad, bad decision that led to yet another loss.
This game in general was eerily similar to the loss in Milwaukee a few weeks ago when Giannis Antetokounmpo was tossed in the midst of a close game. Jokic and Malone never really had time to make a big impact as both were ejected in the first half, but the final moments played out exactly the same.
The Pistons, of course, lost that game in the final minutes.
Damian Willard closing out the Pistons Reggie Jackson closing out the Pistons.
Really, you could argue the officials did everything they could to help the Pistons win for once. And Detroit still couldn’t get the job done. Adding insult to injury was the fact that it was Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, two former Pistons who fans actually saw win some games and do good things in Detroit, combined for 41 points.
Cade Cunningham did his part with 27 points and 9 assists, but once again the offense bogged into four guys watching him try to iso his way to a win. It’s wild that we see this game after game and yet it appears to be the actual plan.
He did shoot 11 free throws which was actually a great sign, but after only turning it over once in the first half, his four giveaways in the second were tough.
Jaden Ivey had a very efficient 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. I wish he’d had the ball in his hands more late, but I guess if Monty still doesn’t trust him, being on the floor is the first step toward having ball handling responsibilities while out there.
Both Isaiah Stewart and Marvin Bagley were meh. The Nuggets went small after Jokic was tossed, so it really rendered the pairing useless.
I thought Isaiah Livers was solid in his return. He hit is first shot and missed his final six, but overall the offense looked a lot less constipated with him at the four alongside Stewart.
Hell, even two-way forward Stanley Umude played a role, scoring eight points to start the fourth and playing pretty sound defense. He might be another good two-way find. I will say, as good as he was off the bench, the regression of Alec Burks has been harsh.
He was 0-of-4 from three and is 3-of-16 from deep over the past three games. The bench cannot survive these long stretches if he can’t make threes, Killian Hayes isn’t making shots and it’s James Wiseman instead of Marvin Bagley out there.
I think Bagley can help once Jalen Duren is back, but that’s not going to get this team to the promise land. It’s putting tape on the hole that’s filling your boat with water.
I honestly don’t know what the Pistons have to do to fix this. I thought they would come out pissed off and win tonight. They almost did. At this point, it’s abundantly clear that getting back role players like Livers, and maybe someday Bojan Bogdanovic and Monte Morris, is not going to change the calculus much.
This team is right where Troy Weaver likes his teams — in pole position for the No. 1 pick.
Only this time, it’s not on purpose.