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Giving The Pistons A 20-Point Lead Is Like Giving A Baby A Knife

4:39 PM EST on January 10, 2024

Head Coach Monty Williams of the Detroit Pistons reacts towards referee Scott Foster #48 during the fourth quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Little Caesars Arena on January 09, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Nic Antaya/Getty Images

In looking at Tuesday's slate of NBA games, the night's least surprising result might seem to be the Sacramento Kings' 131-110 win over the Detroit Pistons. Surely nothing noteworthy could possibly have happened over there. But you'd be wrong to underestimate the Pistons' capacity for history-making ignominy. The way they stumbled into their 34th loss of the season was something to behold.

This game began like many games involving the Kings: with Sacramento's opponent going totally nuts from the three-point line. In the first quarter, Bojan Bogdanovic was 5-for-5 from the field, the Pistons hit seven threes (not that far from their per-game average of 10.4), and Detroit hung 47 on Sacramento in the first quarter, the most they've scored in a quarter in nearly 40 years. Even more impressive was that the Pistons did it all without Cade Cunningham, their only actually good player.

Watching the Kings fart their way into inexplicable turnovers wasn't nearly as jarring as the experience of seeing Kevin Knox make the extra pass, or Joe Harris shake off several weeks of rust. When it comes to doing the little things right, the Pistons do none of them. Late in their 28-game losing streak, the Pistons had a complete inability to get good shots out of half-court sets against even half-determined defenses without Cunningham deciding to go one-on-one. Yet there they were, confidently making the Kings pay for their many mistakes and holding their lead through part of the second quarter.

They blew it, of course. Teams are blowing big leads more often than ever, though the speed at which this game turned from a blowout in one direction into a blowout in the other was shocking. The Kings didn't do anything especially remarkable during their 41-7 run during the second and third quarters, a stretch in which Detroit spent nearly a quarter's worth of time (10:46) without making a shot. It was as simple as throwing outlet passes to runners, letting Domantas Sabonis have the ball, and giving Keegan Murray space to amble into open layups against his 2022 draft-mate Jaden Ivey. Faced with competency, the Pistons melted.

Sabonis is one of the most skilled centers in the NBA, yet as shown by last season's flat playoff performance against a defense determined to stop him, he's limited in a bunch of critical ways. He's stoppable, though it takes elite team defense or physicality. Jalen Duren and James Wiseman contributed neither. Against Duren, Sabonis would simply put him under and then inside of the hoop. Against Wiseman, who is only capable of standing in one spot and even then is somehow bad at it, Sabonis would take one step and have an open path to the cup. He notched a 37-point triple-double on 21 shots. Murray, who scarcely seemed to be defended by anyone at any point ever in the game, had 32 points on 13-for-17 shooting.

Perhaps funniest of all is that the Pistons tied the game at 101 early in the fourth. And they still lost by 21! After giving up the lead, the Kings spammed Malik Monk-Sabonis pick-and-rolls and ripped off 10 points in two minutes. That two-man action isn't easy to defend, but you'd hope for head coach Monty Williams to make some kind of adjustment upon seeing the same play for the fourth straight possession. Alas, that's not the Pistons. They became the first team in the shot-clock era to blow at least a 18-point lead and lose by more than 18, and still this undersells how disastrous they were in a few critical spots. This was one of the funniest games of the whole season.

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