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Detroit Pistons rookie Cade Cunningham played the best game of his short NBA career. As electric as his night was, it wasn't quite enough against the reigning MVP.
Cunningham scored a career-high 34 points, dished eight assists, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked four shots and also tallied two steals against the Denver Nuggets. It was a signature game by the number one pick, who impacted every aspect of the game and kept the margin close against a Western Conference contender.
But Nikola Jokic also had a big night, finishing with 28 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists to lead the Nuggets to a 110-105 win over the Pistons. It was Denver's second-straight win over Detroit this week, after beating them 117-111 in Denver on Sunday.
Saddiq Bey added 21 points, and Frank Jackson finished with 11 points and returned after missing 13 games due to a sprained ankle and COVID.
Cade Cunningham's career night not enough
Midway through the first quarter, Cunningham tried to hit a rolling Stewart for an alley-oop. But he misplaced the pass, and the ball instead sailed through the net for two Pistons points.
It was that kind of night for Cunningham, who bested his previous career-high of 29 points. He made five of his first six shots, 10 of his first 15, and was the primary reason why the Pistons were able to hang with one of the Western Conference's best teams.
Cunningham showcased his full offensive arsenal — knocking down multiple 3-pointers on the move, finishing through traffic and through bigger defenders, and posting up smaller defenders. He delivered pitch-perfect passes to his teammates, and mostly avoided the sloppy turnovers he's struggled with at times this season. His best stretch happened midway through the fourth quarter, when he scored seven-straight points to help Detroit cut a 12-point deficit to three.
With 5:33 on the clock in the final period, Hayes found Cunningham in transition for a pull-up 3-pointer that cut the deficit to 99-96. The bucket gave Cunningham a new career-high of 32 points. He'd score one more — a layup with 1:31 to play to cut the deficit to four — to finish his career night.
Frank Jackson returns
Thanks to a sprained left ankle and health and safety protocols, Jackson missed 13-consecutive games and hadn't played since Dec. 29 entering Tuesday's game. He was questionable before the opening tip, but the Pistons made him active after he went through warmups.
Jackson was a little rusty from behind the arc, making just one of his five attempts, but otherwise had a productive night for Detroit. He scored 11 points and played eight minutes in the fourth quarter, scoring six points in the final period.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons lose to Nuggets on Cade Cunningham's career night