PHOENIX — The Detroit Pistons faced the NBA's hottest team on Thursday. The Phoenix Suns marched in riding a 17-game winning streak. They had an opportunity to set a franchise record by beating the Pistons for an 18th straight win.
The Pistons couldn't complete a comeback win after falling behind by 18 midway through the third quarter. However, the Pistons didn't let the Suns get win No. 18 too easily. The Pistons' second half effort fell short, 114-103, to give the Suns a franchise-record win streak.
Despite the final margin, the second half was one of Detroit's better efforts this season. The Pistons outscored the Suns 30-18 in the third quarter, and used a 17-0 run to cut an 18-point deficit to one.
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Jerami Grant led the Pistons with 34 points and six rebounds, and Cade Cunningham added 19 points and five assists. Isaiah Stewart had a double-double, with 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Killian Hayes added 10 points and six rebounds. Seven players reached double figures for Phoenix. Cameron Payne and Cam Johnson each had a game-high 19 points off the bench. DeAndre Ayton had a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Pistons avoid blowout with strong third quarter
Grant and Cunningham were Detroit's alpha dogs during a third-quarter surge that nearly brought the Pistons back from an 18-point deficit. They each scored 12 points in the period, shooting a combined 8-for-10 from the floor and 3-for-3 from behind the arc.
A 3-pointer from Mikal Bridges extended the Suns' lead to 18 with 6:17 to play in the quarter. The Pistons answered with a 17-0 run to get within one point, 80-79, with 2:20 on the clock. Cunningham scored 10 points during the run, including the 3-pointer that nearly tied the game.
The Pistons appeared to briefly tie the game at 82, after Hamidou Diallo's 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. However, the 3-pointer was ruled late after a review from the officials.
Hayes, who scored 10 points in the first half, went scoreless in the second half. What he lacked in points, he made up for with solid team play. Hayes blocked two shots in the third quarter and on offense found Grant for a catch-and-shoot 3 to cut the deficit to six, 80-74.
Stewart shows off his midrange game
The Pistons coaching staff gave Stewart the green light to become a volume shooter late last season. He took 35 3-pointers during his final 10 games, after taking 28 shots from outside during his first 58 games. The Pistons wanted Stewart to be able to play both frontcourt positions, believing that the key to him becoming an effective power forward was for him to become an effective shooter.
Through the early portion of this season, Stewart has returned to being a reluctant shooter. It's not necessarily by design, but head coach Dwane Casey has said they want him focusing on his strengths — rebounding and defense — and aren't pressuring him to space the floor. He has taken j11 3's through 20 games, only making one.
Teams have planned for Stewart, expecting that he won't take shots outside the paint. Ayton and JaVale McGee gave him ample space Thursday night, daring him to shoot. He didn't take a 3-pointer, but did punish the Suns on two separate occasions. Stewart knocked down two 19-foot jumpers — one toward the end of the first quarter, and another a couple of minutes into the third.
Stewart doesn't take many jumpers during his game, but it's still a part of his skill development program. He takes 3-pointers during warm-ups before games, and he has had solid touch outside the paint since college. Thursday showed his jumper is still an option when he's willing to take them.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons challenge Phoenix Suns but fall short in 114-103