How Cade Cunningham showed he can take over for Detroit Pistons
Cade Cunningham scored his third bucket of the night against one of the NBA’s biggest stars. He used an in-and-out dribble to catch Kevin Durant off-balance, drove into him and used his shoulder to create space before laying the ball in.
It was one of many impressive buckets the Detroit Pistons‘ No. 1 overall pick made during a 17-point, four-rebound performance. Cunningham is still finding his rhythm after missing a month of action with an ankle sprain, but he hit three big shots in the fourth quarter to keep the Pistons within striking distance against an Eastern Conference contender.
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After the game, Durant gave Cunningham his props. The relationship between the two players started while Cunningham was in high school, Durant said. The two players recorded a Zoom call (with some NSFW language) together in February, before Oklahoma State played back-to-back games against Oklahoma ahead of the NCAA tournament. Durant said he’s excited to see where Cunningham’s career goes from here.
“I love Cade’s game,” Durant said after his Brooklyn Nets defeated the Pistons on Friday, 96-90. “I think he’s going to be a tough, tough player for a long, long time. I got to know him when he was in high school so we got to build a little relationship. To play against him in the NBA is sweet.
“We had a lot of conversations about being on this level and what it took,” Durant continued. “To see him out here battling through some injuries in the start, but to come out here and play aggressive tonight and hit some big shots, I’m happy for him and looking forward to seeing his career.”
It’s high praise for Cunningham, who has delivered a handful of memorable moments four games into his NBA career while playing his way into game shape. Friday was his most memorable game yet, though. He was 3-for-11 from the floor through the first three quarters of the game, but helped power a late 11-2 run that cut Brooklyn’s lead to one with just over two minutes to play. Cunningham scored eight of those 11, knocking down a floater, a pull-up 3-pointer and a corner 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 90-89.
Durant was the star at the end, however, making Brooklyn’s final two shots from the field before LaMarcus Aldridge hit two free throwsto close the game out.
If the Pistons had shot better than 37.9% (and 32.4% from 3), the outcome of the game might’ve been different. But back to Cunningham; he wanted the ball late and showed he can hit big shots. He made three of his six attempts in the fourth quarter, matching his makes during the first three quarters combined.
“I like the way Cunningham ran the show and made shots in the end,” coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “He wanted the shots. He was hunting the shots. Was trying to get them something there, and then they fouled Isaiah (Stewart) on the inbounds play at the end, so it didn’t really develop. But I like the way our guys competed, even though we only shot 32% from 3 and 37% from the floor, we still put ourselves in position to win. That tells me a lot about our team. It doesn’t feel like it right now, but what we’re building is something that’s sustainable. But there’s no participation awards in the NBA.”
Cunningham missed most of training camp, all of preseason and five of Detroit’s first six regular-season games. He has shown flashes of the shot-making, playmaking and defense that left him almost universally acclaimed as the best prospect in a talented 2021 draft class, but we may not see a complete game from him until he gets his conditioning where it needs to be.
He shot only 6-for-17 overall, but he stepped up when the Pistons needed him to. Four games in, it’s a positive sign.
“He’s worked hard since he’s gotten here,” Frank Jackson said. “He’s a big time player, he makes big time plays and he is going to continue to do so. I think this is his third or fourth game back, he’s got a long road to go down. It was cool to see him step up tonight, and he’s going to continue to do something great.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.