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Detroit Pistons' COVID trouble on display as G League replacements not enough in blowout loss

·3 min read
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  • Detroit Pistons
    Detroit Pistons
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Hamidou Diallo
    Hamidou Diallo
    American basketball player

The Detroit Pistons played a basketball game on Sunday. But their roster had more players from their G League club, the Motor City Cruise, than for the NBA franchise.

The final score reflected that. The San Antonio Spurs defeated a depleted Detroit squad, 144-109. The 35-point final margin isn't indicative of the Pistons' effort, but rather a lack of available bodies.

The Pistons traveled to San Antonio without the majority of their rotation. Eight Pistons have entered the NBA's COVID-19 protocols since Wednesday. Four additional Pistons are recovering from injuries. Detroit took on the Spurs with four Cruise players recently signed to 10-day contracts, and two players — center Luka Garza and forward Jamorko Pickett, who has a two-way contract — who would likely be with the Cruise during normal times.

Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey (41) dribbles past San Antonio Spurs forward Keita Bates-Diop (31) in the second half at the AT&T Center.
Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey (41) dribbles past San Antonio Spurs forward Keita Bates-Diop (31) in the second half at the AT&T Center.

Time to shine?

With Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk still out due to their respective injuries, the door was open for multiple Cruise players to seize a large role on an NBA floor. The Pistons (5-27) also relied on Saddiq Bey, Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo to the extent that they could. All three logged at least 33 minutes.

Diallo had his best game of the season, finishing with a game-high 28 points and making 13 of his 19 attempts. Bey added 23, and Garza scored a career-high 20 points in 20 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Jackson added 17 points.

Former Michigan standout Derrick Walton Jr. started his second career game, and first as a Piston. He went scoreless, but finished with a team-high six assists, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots.

The Spurs, led by Keldon Johnson (27 points), built an eight-point lead after the first quarter. They essentially clinched the game with a dominant second quarter, using a 30-7 run to build a 68-39 lead with 4:50 to play before halftime.

'We're going to fight'

The NBA is struggling with a surge of COVID cases. More than 100 players have entered health and safety protocols this season, with the vast majority coming within the last two weeks. The Pistons haven't been spared. Cade Cunningham was their first player to enter protocols Wednesday. Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saben Lee and Rodney McGruder joined Cunningham a day later. Trey Lyles entered protocols on Saturday, and Cory Joseph and Josh Jackson entered on Sunday.

"It’s been a little difficult, obviously," said Rex Kalamian, who led the Pistons for the fourth straight road game while head coach Dwane Casey deals with a non-COVID personal issue, before the game. "This is a part of the NBA. Adversity is going to come. We’re not unique to adversity. Every NBA team is going through, or has gone through, adverse times throughout their season. We don’t shy away from it, honestly, as an organization, as a team. We accept it. We accept the position that we’re in right now.

"We’re going to fight, compete, try to look at it and turn it into a positive," he continued. "There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for other people to step up and to step in and play good NBA minutes against a good team tonight. That’s the only way to look at it. We’ve gotta move forward and we’ve gotta find a way to grow and get better and find some resilience through all of this."

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons' COVID-19 trouble on display despite G League help