On the second night of a back-to-back, the Detroit Pistons lacked the energy and execution necessary to take down a shorthanded Western Conference contender.
Behind big nights from Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, the Phoenix Suns (28-25) rolled past the Pistons (14-40) at Little Caesars Arena, 116-100. Detroit struggled against the pick-and-roll featuring Ayton and Chris Paul, and conceded easy buckets at the rim early. Ayton led all scorers with 31 points on 13-for-15 shooting, and also grabbed 16 rebounds. Bridges added 24 points, and Paul dished out 14 assists.
Saddiq Bey led Detroit with 25 points and found his rhythm late, scoring 13 in the fourth quarter. Bojan Bogdanovic (23 points) and Isaiah Stewart (17 points, nine rebounds) also had notable nights. The loss came after the Pistons defeated the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, 118-112.
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Jalen Duren got into early foul trouble, picking up his third less than two minutes into the second quarter. He and Stewart started alongside each other for the second night in a row, and Stewart was forced to play heavy minutes. He checked in for Duren with 10:08 to play before halftime after playing the entire first quarter. It was a quiet night for the rookie, who finished with one point, six rebounds and three assists after scoring in double figures in six of his previous eight games.
The Suns built an early 15-5 lead, capitalizing on a slow start from Detroit. Phoenix shot 62.5% in the first half, largely off of the strength of Ayton’s low-post touch and Detroit’s disorganization on defense. The Pistons cut the deficit to eight midway through the third quarter, but Phoenix responded with a 9-0 run to put the game away.
Paul, Ayton pick Pistons apart
Some of the Pistons’ defensive issues this season are inherent in their youth, but a lot of it has also simply been the result of poor communication and awareness. Those problems were glaring during the first half, as the Suns punished the Pistons on switches to get Ayton easy buckets. Ayton tallied 19 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, and knocked down seven of nine shot attempts.
From the opening tip, it was clear that Ayton was heading toward a big night. He scored twice in the paint and hit a short jumper in the opening four minutes, forcing an early Pistons timeout en route to a 10-point lead.
Paul has long been known as one of the best pick-and-roll maestros in the history of the NBA, and he and Ayton methodically punished the Pistons for every missed switch. Ayton had few issues finishing over Detroit’s smalls, and the Pistons occasionally gave him wide-open lanes to the rim.
The second half was more of the same. The Suns opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 17. The first bucket of the half was an open Ayton dunk after Duren and Stewart both switched onto Paul. The big man tallied eight points and five rebounds in 10 efficient third-quarter minutes, helping Phoenix starve off a Pistons run that briefly cut the deficit to single digits midway through the period.
Stewart snaps 3-point slump
After starting the season hot from beyond the arc, Stewart had regressed, going without a 3-pointer since Jan. 6, and hitting just three, in 29 tries, since Dec. 31. Against the Suns, little was different during the first half , as he missed his first five 3s. Then, the lid came off.
He missed his first 3 after halftime, then sank three through the remainder of the period. Two came during a stretch in which he scored eight straight for Detroit, briefly keeping the game from reaching blowout margins.
Coach Dwane Casey said with a smile after Friday’s win that Stewart was dealing with the first shooting slump of his career. He wasn’t joking. This is Stewart’s first time operating as a full-time perimeter player. Perhaps the third-year player’s first slump is finally behind him.
This article originally appeared on the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons punished by Phoenix Suns pick-and-roll in 116-100 loss