Detroit Free Press

Cade Cunningham goes off, but Pistons lose duel to Jaren Jackson Jr.

- Omari Sankofa II Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him @omarisanko­fa.

A late-season contest between two nonplayoff bound teams became a duel between the best players on the floor.

Cade Cunningham scored 36 points, with eight assists. Jaren Jackson Jr. had 40 points and seven rebounds for the Memphis Grizzlies. The duo exchanged buckets down the stretch in a close, back-and-forth game.

Ultimately, the Detroit Pistons didn’t prevail, falling to the Grizzlies, 110-108, on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena, after Cunningham’s attempt from midrange at the buzzer missed.

Jackson iced the win for Memphis, knocking down a pair of free throws for a two-point lead before blocking a layup attempt by Cunningham on the other end. Jackson followed with another layup with 2:30 remaining.

A dunk from James Wiseman cut the deficit to two, but Chimezie Metu missed an open 3pointer in the corner with 36 seconds remaining. An overturned call also hurt Detroit late, as Memphis gained possession of the ball with 1:04 to play after a challenge by head coach Taylor Jenkins.

Jaden Ivey scored 20 points, Metu added 17 and James Wiseman and Tosan Evbuomwan had 10 points each. Former Piston Luke Kennard scored 19 points for Memphis.

The Grizzlies controlled much of the second half after trailing during the entire second quarter, opening an eight-point lead midway through the fourth quarter despite trailing by double-digits at halftime. A fast break 3 by Evan Fournier, assisted by Cunningham, cut Memphis’ lead to 104-101 with just over 4 minutes left. Cunningham followed that with a 3pointer of his own to tie the game, and followed that with a pair of free throws to tie it again at 106.

The Pistons closed the second half with an 18-5 run, and entered halftime with a 13-point lead after Jackson tied the game at 39 midway through the second period. Cunningham kicked off the run with seven-straight points right after re-entering the game, and his driving dunk a couple of minutes later pushed Detroit’s lead to 55-42 at the 1:18 mark.

Detroit’s lead evaporated in the third. Jackson dominated the quarter, scoring 21 points on 6-for-7 shooting against Detroit’s battered frontcourt, which lost Jalen Duren early in the game with a mouth injury. Memphis took its first lead, 80-78, since midway through the first quarter on a pair of free throws by Jake LaRavia late in the quarter.

The Pistons answered with a 12-2 run, regaining a five-point lead at the end of the third. But the Grizzlies struck again in the final period, opening it with a 19-6 run to give Detroit its biggest deficit of the night, 104-96, with 5:19 on the clock.

With seven games remaining, the Pistons have 13 wins, three shy of tying the franchise record for fewest in a season.

Cunningham stays aggressive

The third-year guard has since returned from a two-game absence last Wednesday. He had 20 of Detroit’s 63 shot attempts, nearly one-third of the total, through three quarters against the Minnesota Timberwolv­es before sitting most of the fourth in a blowout, and followed that with a season-high 33 attempts in a win over the Washington Wizards Friday.

Monday was Cunningham’s third-consecutiv­e game with at least 30 points, and also his most efficient performanc­e of the three. At halftime, he had 21 points on a sterling 9-for-10 overall clip. He added eight more points in the third, giving him just shy of 30, and helped give Detroit the lead with 2 minutes to play in the quarter by assisting a 3-pointer by Tosan


Outside of Cunningham and Metu, the Pistons struggled to hit shots in the second half. Ivey’s 20 points came on 7-for-17 shooting, and Detroit shot 40.5% in the second half after blitzing Memphis at a 62.2% clip in the first.

With just seven games remaining, there are no tangible goals for the Pistons to accomplish other than entering the offseason with some momentum. Cunningham’s strong play is a bright spot in what’s otherwise been a slow crawl to the finish line.

Duren loses tooth, exits game

The Pistons’ already-lengthy injury report grew by one more early in the game, when Duren lost a tooth after colliding with Jackson midway through the opening period. He immediatel­y went to the locker room, and was ruled out at halftime after just five minutes of action.

It left the team with Wiseman and Metu as their lone healthy big men, as Stewart is out for the rest of the season. It’s unclear if the injury will keep Duren out for a period of time. Monty Williams didn’t have an update on the big man after the game. His next opportunit­y to play will be on the road against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.

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