As the Pistons await the debut of their 2021 No.1 pick, their 2020 lottery pick showed up on Monday night to provide the silver lining for the third straight loss of the season out of the fall.
Killian Hayes, who endured difficult outings in a consecutive loss to Chicago to open the season, found his place on Monday as the Pistons lost a game 122-104 to Atlanta. If it wasn’t necessarily a coming-out night, it at least gave the 20-year-old a springboard to get his second season off to a good start.
“You have to keep playing, playing with confidence, playing on offense,” said Hayes after scoring 12 points and not committing any turnover in 27 minutes after the attack. “I always keep my head up. The last two games have been tough, but I’m trying to hold my head up high and keep moving forward.
The Pistons await the return of draft No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, a player whose playing and shooting ability should work wonders both for a struggling offense and for Hayes’ benefit, easing the pressure of being the sole playmaker of the starting unit. But it wasn’t just Cunningham who missed Monday against an opponent who reached the Eastern Conference final over the summer. The Pistons also went without leading scorer Jerami Grant with an elbow injury which cost Hayes another pressure relief valve.
In their two losses to Chicago to open the 2021-22 season, the Pistons kept the Bulls under 100 each time, but averaged just 85 points while shooting within 20 percent of the game. 3-point arc.
Dwane Casey responded to Grant’s absence by raising Kelly Olynyk in the starting lineup. He also connected Josh Jackson to that unit for another struggling starter, Frank Jackson, the space reserved for Cunningham’s place in the lineup.
But those two moves came at the expense of a bench unit Casey had called the team’s strength at the start of the season. And with veteran Cory Joseph also on an uneven start, the bench cost the Pistons in Monday’s loss. While Atlanta outscored the Pistons by just six points while Hayes was in the lead, the Hawks were 17 points better than the Pistons within 16 minutes of Joseph.
Frank Jackson was under-21 in 14 minutes and rookie Luka Garza, playing spinning minutes with Olynyk filling Grant’s void up front, finished under-22 in 13 minutes. Atlanta essentially took control of the game with a 13-4 streak in the final four minutes of the third quarter against the bench, taking a seven-point lead to 16.
“I thought when the going got tough we kind of let our defensive guard down,” Casey said. “We weren’t shooting. We knew it. In our first two games, we caught up with our defensive intensity and let our guard down tonight. Trae Young has something to do with it, but that doesn’t stop our defensive intensity, our defensive mojo. I thought we lost that. Our second unit arrived and let the mojo drop a bit.
Olynyk and Saddiq Bey scored 21 apiece, Josh Jackson added 18 and the Pistons showed marginal improvement in their shooting to 3 points (9 of 33, 27%) and reducing turnovers from their 20-game average. at 14, although the Hawks punished them by converting errors into 22 points.
“It was a lower number, but it was the type of turnovers,” Casey said. “Live ball returns. They go down in dunk, the crowd goes mad. It was the kind of turnaround.
But none of them were the work of Hayes and given his importance in the Pistons’ universe, that was something to take away from Monday’s loss.
“I think he did a good job playing with the beat, pushing the basketball,” Casey said. “He was decisive in his game and his decisions. I thought it helped him a bit with some of his punches. He was decisive, had balance.
Hayes hit 2 of 3 3 points and had some bad luck on stronger moves that resulted in duds inside the paint, finishing 2 of 8 inside the 3 point line. He had three assists and could have had double with a better shot around him. Jackson cited Hayes’ penetration and his generally more assertive demeanor.
“It helps us a lot,” said Josh Jackson. “Obviously the defense has to crumble when the guys attack the paint and we get into it, that sets the stage for our shooters. We didn’t shoot too many today, but we got the good shots we wanted.
“I’m not worried about the Killian shooting. I’m worried he’s leading the team, ”Casey said. “And I thought he did a good job, as a playmaker. His shot will come.