Kate Cunningham couldn't contain her wide grin as she took the stage.
“Why am I laughing now?” He walked with his hand over his mouth.
The Detroit Pistons won a game, but it's still dec. It was 30. The Little Caesars Arena crowd led the team to a 129-127 win over the Toronto Raptors – their first win. More than two months. Hugs were exchanged in the locker room. The sound of their cheers echoed through the hallway that connected their locker room to the court.
The streak is finally over. The Pistons' 28-game losing streak is the longest single-season skid in NBA history and the longest in professional sports history. The team gained national attention, becoming a daily topic on NBA social media and talk radio, as well as the subject of countless derogatory memes.
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It's all in the past. At 3-29 overall, the team is looking to end one of the most tumultuous years any franchise has ever endured. They finish 2023 with just 10 wins in the entire calendar year, and just five since Feb. 10.
“I feel amazing,” Cunningham said. “This is the first time I've tried not to make cheese. It's good. It's been a long time coming. We don't want to go back to where we were.
It's been a surreal chapter for the Pistons, who hit rock bottom early in the season despite a 2-1 start. They tied their franchise record with their 14th straight loss on Nov. 27 — a 19-point blowout to the Washington Wizards in just over a month. A winless November followed an almost winless December.
The group felt better than its record suggested. Still, losses continued to pile up. They've suffered 32-point blowouts at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic, close heartbreakers on the road in Atlanta and at home against Indiana, not to mention injuries and illness and oh-so-many embarrassments.
It has come as a shock to a company that was hoping for a breakthrough in year 4 of a rebuild. The Pistons began the season without key players like Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Livers and Monte Morris. Alec Burks, Jalen Duran, Joe Harris, Gillian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart also missed time with injuries. Poor shooting — and defense — made Detroit's offense look incredibly thin every night.
The streak won't immediately fix all the problems that have plagued the team this season. But at least, a collective weight has been lifted off everyone's shoulders.
“We knew coming into this season that we had to grow in a lot of areas, our discipline, our habits, the way we practice,” head coach Monty Williams said. “We thought we had good routines. We didn't have consistency in winning games. I don't think our routines are going to change, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't relief in the building.
Another standout performance from Kate Cunningham, who finished Saturday with 30 points, 12 assists and no turnovers, helped the Pistons end a win over a Toronto Raptors team reeling from a major trade (sending early draft OG Anunoby to New York) and a close loss in Boston the night before.
The No. 1 overall pick in 2021 entered the game averaging 33 points, 7.4 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals on 56.9% shooting over his previous five games. He started slowly, scoring 26 points in the second half to hold off a Raptors team that got big nights from Pascal Siakam (35 points) and Dennis Schroder (28 points).
But unlike most of Detroit's games during the streak, Cunningham got help from several teammates. Bogdanovic and Duren each scored 18 points, and Duren grabbed 17 rebounds. Burks and Kevin Knox scored 16 and 17 respectively. Jaden Ivy scored 12 and grabbed four big offensive rebounds, helping the Pistons finish with 12 second-chance points.
The Pistons had a strong night of late as a collective. They led by 11, 110-99, midway through the fourth quarter and made 14 of 17 free throw attempts late in the final quarter.
Their next game will bring out a new side as they tip off in 2024 in Houston for a New Year's Day matchup against the Rockets. The team has a significant hole to fill, but with 50 games remaining, there is still hope that the season can end on a good note.
“It's been weighing heavily on us everywhere we've been going for two months,” Cunningham said. “What's unreal is that it's been a long time. It's been a long time coming. That's what we've been pushing for so long. To finally get over that hump, we're not trying to go back. Now it's really starting to see what we're going to be. We're going to continue to play with the same fire that we've been playing with, and we We are going to stick together and try to put together more successful games.