Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 125-116 win over the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena
DOUBLE THE FUN – Happy Thanksgiving, indeed! The turkey the Pistons enjoy on their day off in Phoenix – after the most impressive encounter of the NBA season – will be particularly succulent, one suspects. After recording their best win of the season against a packed Denver roster 24 hours earlier, the Pistons could have been expected to take a deep breath and blow their doors off the NBA’s biggest surprise team, Utah, a team that started the night would be in a virtual tie at the top of the Western Conference with Phoenix. But the Pistons took every punch Utah administered and still went into the fourth quarter with eight points, seeing the Jazz pull within three points twice in the last six minutes and still parrying every jab. It was the first time the Pistons had won back-to-back games this season, and they did it on back-to-back nights against two of the West’s best teams — and at height, to boot. Want more to put the improbability of winning in perspective? The Pistons have been 6-36 in Salt Lake City since the Jazz moved to Utah in 1979. Kevin Knox hit a career-high six 3-pointers and hit a season-high 21 points, hitting 6 of 8 from the 3-point line. Marvin Bagley III posted a season-high 19 points and hit 9 of 10 shots as the Pistons maintained a balanced score and key contributions from the bench for a third straight game. 23 points scored Bojan Bogdanovic, who came to trade from jazz on the eve of the training camp.
BENCH FLEX – After their two best games of the season — 55 points in Sunday’s Sacramento and 53 more in Tuesday’s exhilarating win in Denver — the Pistons bench helped them get off to another strong start, leading Utah 30-25 after a quarter. By the middle of the second quarter, the bench had scored 30 of 49 Pistons points as they led by 12 points. It was also an overarching effort. The unit of Kevin Knox, Alec Burks, Cory Joseph, Jalen Duren and Hamidou Diallo has a nice mix of shooting, athletics and veteran know-how with Burks’ uncanny shot on target and Joseph’s mastery of half-court offense. Knox hit a pair of threes in the quarter, only playing the last four minutes and hitting another early in the second quarter as the Pistons extended their lead. He hit another pair of triples in the fourth quarter after Utah had three points and a third left at 4:43 to give the Pistons a seven-point lead. His 21 points come after he racked up 17 points in Denver. Knox has averaged 16.3 points over the last three games. Burks, who scored 21 points in the Denver win and solidified the bench on his return after missing the first 12 games of the season, finished the season with 18 points and his crucial late-game triple for the second straight night. The Pistons finished with their bench’s best 58 points of the season. Joseph played seven first-half minutes but took a seat with four points and five assists and finished with six points and six assists, limiting the Pistons to a nine-man rotation.
DECISIONS AHEAD – It’ll be a very comfortable dilemma for Dwane Casey to resolve, but a potentially tricky one for sure when Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and maybe Cade Cunningham return in the fairly near future. Bey’s sprained ankle is not expected to keep him out much longer and Stewart’s sprained right big toe not much longer as Cunningham’s status with left shin pain is yet to be determined. But the Pistons have found a comfort zone on their longest road trip of the season, putting themselves in position to win the first three games before breaking through in Denver and moving on in Utah. Integrating these three young players who are so central to their future is not something they would play slowly, but bringing them back in without disrupting the momentum they have accumulated will be a challenge. The second unit in particular, which has become such a positive force, will see significant changes, and some players who took the opportunity may see their playing time reduced or eliminated altogether. For example, how do you take Kevin Knox out of the rotation at this point? But Bey comes back and he’s obviously playing. Either Isaiah Livers, who started in Bey’s absence, or Hamidou Diallo will have to fight to retain a place.