Cade Cunningham shines, but Detroit Pistons booed in 129-107 blowout vs. Sacramento Kings

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Luke Walton can rest a little easier following his team's performance Monday in Detroit.

After reports broke earlier in the day that Sacramento's third-year coach could lose his job if the Kings' losing continued, his team played with urgency and ended a four-game skid by slaying the Detroit Pistons in a 129-107 blowout at Little Caesars Arena.

Buddy Hield's 22 points led six Kings (6-8) with 15 points or more, and the starting backcourt of De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton was too much for the Pistons. Fox had 19 points, nine assists and three steals, and Haliburton collected 17 points and 10 assists.

Saddiq Bey scored a season-high 28 points and Cade Cunningham collected 25 points, eight assists and eight rebounds for the Pistons (3-10), but they were no match for the spirited Kings and heard early boos from the home crowd.

TRENDING: Cade Cunningham shows he's exactly the leader Pistons need

“By the time we woke up, the game was over," Pistons coach Dwane Casey said as he took the blame for a performance he called one of the worst of the season, one already full of concerning, disjoint displays in Year 2 of a rebuild. Six losses have come by 15 points or more.

"We got to be ready when the referee throws up the first jump ball. We can't ease our way in. That's my message."

Cunningham, who was a career-best 5-for-11 on 3s, joined Grant Hill and Dave Bing as the only Piston rookies with 25-8-8 in team history, according to ESPN. He's now shooting 30.4% on 3s in eight games (21-for-69) after missing the first 17 attempts of his career.

"Our first group came out lax," Cunningham said. "We didn't set the right tone."

He didn't get much help from fellow lottery pick Killian Hayes, who went scoreless one game after a sparkling two-way performance and first career double-double. Hayes was 0-for-5, four from 3-point range, in 24 minutes with three assists and two turnovers, as he failed to put pressure on the defense.

Pistons' leading scorer Jerami Grant (18.9 PPG) was limited to seven points on 3-for-10 shooting, also resorting to jump shots.

ANALYSIS: Enjoy Cade Cunningham's rookie battles now because stakes will never be lower

The Pistons trailed by as many as 32 and never got closer than 17 in the second half, though Cunningham led a 14-0 run to climb within 18, forcing Walton to bring back his starters with six minutes left. The Pistons' league-worst shooting continued, going 27.7% on 3s (13-for-47) and 40.6% overall.

Defensively, the Pistons allowed 12 dunks and were outscored 64-48 in the paint, as Sacramento shot 53.1% overall and 48.5% from 3-point range (16-for-33).

The Pistons will continue their five-game homestand Wednesday vs. Indiana.

First-half boos

The Pistons entered with the No. 29 offense, last in overall shooting and 3-point shooting. Those numbers will now look worse, thanks to an embarrassing first half.

Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes (22) goes to the basket on Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart (28) in the first half at Little Caesars Arena on Nov. 15, 2021.
Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes (22) goes to the basket on Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart (28) in the first half at Little Caesars Arena on Nov. 15, 2021.

Scattered boos were audible as the Kings used a 24-2 run to open a 31-12 lead after the first quarter, in which the Pistons shot 5-for-25, including 1-for-20 to end the quarter. The Pistons were a step behind, didn’t move the ball crisply and then when they created good looks late in the quarter, missed 3s badly and blew a few layups. But they didn't run much to foster ball movement and scores, with seemingly few pick-and-rolls called while Grant and Bey decided to go one-on-one looking to score. Grant was scoreless in the half, while Bey carried them with 17 points, mostly on his own creation. Cunningham seemed to let the game come to him more, scoring 14 without forcing shots. His 3-point shot still misses short and wild often and the arc seems flat at times compared to his Oklahoma State days, something to monitor as he continues find his footing after missing all of October with an ankle sprain.

Meanwhile, the Kings played desperate. Their lead ballooned to 42-16, before Pistons Casey inserted the rarely used Rodney McGruder, who scored four points to help the Pistons on a 16-4 run to cut the deficit to 14. But Sacramento punched back to stretch the lead back to 26, and settling for a 68-44 halftime lead.

The Pistons took 53% of their shots from 3-point range in the half — 11.5% higher than their season average — shooting 6-for-27 from 3 (22.2%), and were outscored 30-16 in the paint as they rarely drove with intent to create for others. The Kings did the opposite and created better looks, and their shooters came through, with Sacramento shooting 56.2% both overall and from 3 (9-for-16) in the half. They got some easy buckets in transition, which helped stem the Pistons' run.

Garza’s pros and cons

After a DNP-coach's decision in Toronto on Saturday, Garza got the call in the second quarter and played the final 6:26 of the half to a minus-7. Both his positives and limitations showed up, as he finished with five points (2-for-4 shooting) and seven rebounds in 17 minutes.

Garza drilled a pick-and-pop 3 over Fox, as the 7-footer with a high release was unbothered by the close out. That shot is a real weapon.

CENTER HELP: How will Pistons fill void left by Kelly Olynyk? Dwane Casey must be creative

On the ensuing defensive possession, the Kings put him in pick-and-roll, and he allowed Tyrese Haliburton to walk into an open layup, too concerned with the rolling big man while failing to stop the most dangerous player: The man with the ball.

Later, Haliburton got Garza on a switch, and with Casey yelling “stay on him,” to Garza, the second-year guard created space with a side-stop move and swished a 3 over Garza’s late contest.

It's common for rookie bigs to struggle defending, and the Kings rightly attacked Garza, taking advantage of their speed advantage. But if Garza is to become a playable defender at the game's most important position, he has to speed up his play recognition and positioning. Hopefully for his and the Pistons' sakes, that comes with reps and time.

In the second half, he made two nice catches deep in the paint, finishing one but getting stuffed by Marvin Bagley III on the other.

Hello, Lee

Down big in the third quarter, Casey called for Saben Lee over Cory Joseph for backup point guard minutes for his fifth appearance of the season. Lee was recalled from the Motor City Cruise before the game after a three-game stint. He leads the G League in scoring at 37.7 points in through games, shooting a scorching 52% on 3-pointers (14-for-27) and averaging nine assists and 2.7 steals.

He showed positive signs in the second half of last season, but the Pistons understandably went with a veteran in Joseph to try to set up their young core to start the season. But Joseph's numbers have sunk from last season's nice second-half run with the Pistons, partly due to Detroit's league-worst shooting.

BACKSTORY: How Saben Lee got basketball passion from his NFL dad

DOING WORK: Saben Lee improving the one skill he needs most

Playing the final 4:14 of the third, Lee didn't do much, but got on the board by running hard in transition for a reverse layup from Josh Jackson. Lee added two free throws in garbage time.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons slayed by Kings, 129-107; Cade Cunningham shines