DETROIT – Fans booed Pistons Head Coach Monty Williams during the pregame introductions. Other fans wearing Detroit Pistons jerseys chanted “Let’s Go Magic.” And other fans yelled for Pistons owner Tom Gores to “Sell the Team.”
The discontent started because of the Pistons’ NBA-worst 6-43 record, but it continued because of the same woes that have plagued the team all season long: untimely turnovers and letting close games slip away in the waning moments.
Sunday afternoon, Feb. 4, the Pistons allowed Orlando Magic forward and University of Michigan alum Franz Wagner to tie his career-high with 38 points as they lost at home, 111-99. Despite having only two points in the first quarter, Wagner put up 22 points over the next two quarters and 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the decisive fourth quarter.
The Pistons were down just three, 78-75, entering the last quarter, but Wagner began to heat up, and the Magic outscored the Pistons 33-24 over the last 12 minutes to take home the win. Despite the Pistons having just five second-half turnovers, they gave the ball to Orlando 10 times in the first 24 minutes, matching their season average of 15 turnovers – the second worst per-game average leaguewide.
“He’s big. When you have a six-(foot), nine-(inch) guy that can run pick-and-roll, he can see the floor. Smaller guys, when you put bigger guys on them, they have to create some distance to see the floor, (but) he can see the floor,” said Williams of Wagner’s game.
“Then he’s got a big Eurostep. And they do a good job of setting the screen, then they dive into the help (defender). He Eurosteps around the help (defender), so you’re almost better switching with him just to keep the ball in front. Tonight, a couple times he just blew right by us and got to the rim. But he’s a pretty efficient pick-and-roll player because of his size and he has good feel.”
Early on, it looked like the Pistons’ Jaden Ivey was on his way to a career night, scoring 10 points in the first quarter. He and center Jalen Duren combined to shoot 8-of-9 from the field and score 19 of the Pistons 27 first-quarter points. But the duo would go on to net just 14 more points throughout the rest of the game, as Ivey finished with 18 points and Duren with 15. Duren also tied his second-lowest rebounding output of the season by grabbing just five boards on the night and tallying the same number of fouls.
“We were switching and trying to keep the ball in front, and then when we did double the post it actually worked out for us. The last big three they hit – I think (Franz) Wagner – we got confused on the back side. We had some costly turnovers that put them in transition as well. The second and fourth quarters, we just couldn’t score the ball the way that we did. We just couldn’t score well tonight,” Williams said.
“I thought we left our feet tonight to make plays, and it just was never there. You’ve got to have a plan when you get to the paint,” Williams said. He did credit his rooking Ausar Thompson for his defense against Orlando’s All-Star big man Paolo Banchero, though, who finished with 20 points, but did so shooting just 6-of-16 from the field.
“Defensively, (Thompson) was active. He was able to stay in front of the ball. That’s why matchups don’t really matter that much. Teams just screen you off to a not-so-primetime guy, but when he was able to keep the matchup, I think he was able to do a good job at staying in front of the ball.
The game seemed to be going well for the Pistons out the gate, as they scored 10 of the game’s first 12 points. But after going up to an early 10-2 lead, the Magic were able to use an 8-0 run to eliminate the gap. After each team added another bucket, the Pistons swapped Kevin Knox II for Thompson off the bench, changed to a zone defense, and strung together a 9-0 run to move ahead 21-12 just over halfway through the first before taking a 29-24 lead into the second quarter.
“I was comfortable out there,” said Thompson, who finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks in 27 minutes. “I was trying to be aggressive, but it would have been nice to finish it with a win.”
Wagner and Michigan State alum Gary Harris helped to push ahead for the Magic early in the fourth after a Marcus Sasser three-pointer tied the game at 78-78 and just under 11 minutes remaining in the game. The UM-MSU pair combined to score 15 points for Orlando in the next five minutes of the game, pushing the Magic ahead by eight points. They would never look back and exchanged made baskets with the Pistons over the next six minutes to leave Little Caesars with the win. Orlando, sitting atop the Southeast Division, pushed its record to 27-23. The Magic are on pace to have the team’s first winning season since the 2018-2019 campaign.
The Pistons will now hit the road for a six-game stretch away from LCA over the next two weeks before returning home for a rematch against Orlando on Feb. 24.