Jalen Duren’s Career Game Powers Pistons Past the No. 1 Team in the West

Jalen Duren recorded the first 20-20 game of his career, tallying 22 points, a career-high 21 rebounds, and even dishing a career-high six assists, as the Detroit Pistons cruised past the Western Conference’s top-ranked Oklahoma City Thunder, 120-104, on Sunday, Jan. 28, at Little Caesars Arena.

It was Duren’s 23rd double-double on the season, as he became the fourth-youngest player in NBA history (20 years and 71 days old) to accomplish a 20-point, 20-rebound game. The San Antonio Spurs rookie French phenom Victor Wembanyama set the league’s record as the youngest player to record such a game when he did it earlier this season two months shy of his 20th birthday.

“Last night (Duren) had 18 rebounds, and he would tell you he didn’t have an imprint on the game. I thought tonight, (he put) an imprint on the game with his physicality. He was a disruptive distraction at the rim. I just thought he was a man in the paint tonight. He was physical with Chet (Holmgren), and you have to be physical with Chet,” Pistons Head Coach Monty Williams said after the game.

“A 20-20 (game) is pretty hard, but he just has a nose for the ball, and we think he’s going to have a lot of those games. I just think he’s putting work in. I’ve told him that if he’s going to be the guy that we feel like he can be, he’s gotta own that position. Earlier, I feel like he was renting it. He would show flashes of it, then you wouldn’t see it. …He’s worked on his footwork, he’s certainly worked on his touch, and, you know, it’s a work in progress, but we can definitely see the growth.”

The team had to adjust on the fly as Cade Cunningham was a gametime scratch. What would have been the second night of back-to-back games, Williams decided not to play Cunningham, who returned yesterday for the first time in two weeks from a knee injury.

The Pistons responded well to Williams’ criticism of his team in yesterday’s 118-104 loss to the Washington Wizards, saying the team was “outworked.” He said the lack of hard work was indicative by the Pistons’ 17 turnovers and 20 fastbreak points they gave up to the Wizards. Tonight, the Pistons only had seven turnovers through the first 46 minutes of the 48-minute game (nine total turnovers), and limited OKC in transition to just four fastbreak points.

The night didn’t start off smoothly for Detroit, as the Thunder bolted out to an early 15-5 lead within the first three minutes of the contest, fueled by seven early points from Holmgren. Williams immediately called a timeout and addressed the team.

“I just think our guys care, for sure. I said I’m OK with them making shots, but we’ve gotta go compete the way we compete to give ourselves a chance,” he said. We just competed our tails off.”

After those seven early points, Holmgren was limited to just two points the rest of the contest. All-NBA guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander matched his season average with 31 points, and got OKC out to a 31-24 lead by the end of the first quarter.

Unlike last night and most of the season, the Pistons’ second unit was able to turn the tide for Detroit. The reserves Ausar Thompson, Alec Burks, and Marcus Sasser fueled the team’s first run of the game, and 13-6 effort, to tie the contest at 37-37. The decisive second quarter saw the Pistons outscore the Thunder 46-30, including another run (11-4) to end the half up 70-61.

The momentum sustained even after halftime for the Pistons, who swelled a nine-point halftime lead to 14 points with a Jaden Ivey three pointer with 9:35 remaining in the third quarter. Ivey had 10 points in the quarter, and 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and no turnovers on the night.

Despite a poor shooting night from the team’s second-leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic, he managed to score 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting and just 1-of-5 from three.

Monte Morris, who returned last week from injury to make his Pistons’ debut, was able to provide reliable, change-of-pace point guard play for the team in moments when the team normally has problems holding onto leads.

“He has a calmness about him. When we get in those moments, he has a good pace about him and he’s able to get his shot off and we don’t turn the ball over. Last night, that wasn’t the case,” Williams said of Morris. “The second unit last night kind of got bogged down. Tonight, we were much more prepared and ready for the switching.”

Duren said the game meant a lot for the team, who was able to rebound from the loss Saturday in a huge way against the top-seeded team in the Western Conference.

“It was big time, especially after yesterday. We didn’t come out anything like how we wanted to yesterday. We were really flat. Today, the main focus was keeping that energy. We know what type of team (Oklahoma City) is, they’ve been playing great this year, they’re a playoff team, so we knew we had to come ready to play,” Duren said.

“It’s cool,” he added about his career night, “but honestly being able to get the win, that’s what I’m most happy about. That’s a big-time win, like I said, especially after yesterday. I’m happy about that. Of course, 20-and-20 is 20-and-20, but I know it was bound to happen at some point, so I wasn’t really that worried about it.”

Thunder Head Coach Mark Daigneault credited the Pistons after the game, saying that the narrative of the Pistons being a team that gets steamrolled every night is just untrue.

“If you really look at their season, they’ve been in a lot of close games. They’re not getting blown out every night as I think the media kind of puts it out there. But when you really do a deep dive into their games, they’re losing games by three-or-four points, maybe five,” he said.

“Some of these games have been decided by one possession, so they’re learning how to play with each other. I think everybody is starting to understand their roles over here, so they do a good job of just moving and cutting, playing within each other…They’re still trying to figure it out and they did a good job tonight of making the one-more and moving the ball so hats off to them.”

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