DETROIT — In the hallway leading to the visiting locker room at Little Caesars Arena, Brian Keefe had a smile on his face. The Washington Wizards’ interim coach waited for every player to leave the court and grabbed Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma for a few words.
To close a tumultuous week that included a surprise coaching change, the Wizards got a lift by snapping a six-game skid Saturday afternoon. In his second game as interim coach, Keefe got his first win in a 118-104 victory over Detroit that put the Wizards three games ahead of the NBA-worst Pistons.
“Obviously very cool,” Keefe said of notching his first win. “But most important is [I’m] just really excited for our guys and how they played and how they trusted each other. … Our communication was great on defense. We were putting multiple guys in there to rebound. And then when the guy was open, we made the correct pass. So I took great joy in our team doing that.”
Kuzma put together another spirited effort in his home state. The Flint, Mich., native took over late in the fourth quarter, scoring eight straight points during a 16-5 run that helped Washington (8-37) pull away. As Kuzma (30 points, six rebounds, four assists) attacked the rim for a dunk, pulled up for a three-pointer and buried a fadeaway, the Wizards’ defense tightened to leave the Pistons (5-40) looking lost.
“I love playing here,” Kuzma said. “My mom and stuff is here, and I don’t want to play bad in front of my family because I know I’m [going to] hear about it. And I don’t really like hearing about how bad I played. We owe these guys [after a 12-point home loss this month].”
The fourth quarter began with Washington holding a two-point advantage. Then Detroit shot 6 for 21 (28.6 percent) from the field and 0 for 8 from behind the arc over the final 12 minutes.
“I think it was actually a continuation of what we built off the other night,” Keefe said, referring to Thursday’s 15-point loss to visiting Utah. “We started to have a little more defensive activity in our last game, and I think that carried over to tonight. Defense has got to be our calling card, what we put our name on. And I thought the guys really were competitive and fought. And those habits were great tonight.”
Poole, who played at Michigan, finished with 17 points. Daniel Gafford added 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Tyus Jones chipped in 12 points and nine assists. The Wizards scored 20 fast-break points and outscored Detroit 64-44 in the paint.
Bojan Bogdanovic led the Pistons with 30 points, Cade Cunningham had 20 points and 12 assists, and Jalen Duren added 10 points and 18 rebounds.
“I don’t think we had execution and poise tonight,” Pistons Coach Monty Williams said. “There were times where we were down one or two points and it felt like we were down 20, just because we knew weren’t playing the way we’ve been playing. We got outworked tonight. Not that we didn’t work hard — they just worked so much harder.”
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ win:
Two days after former coach Wes Unseld Jr. was moved to a front-office role, Keefe didn’t want to talk much about himself following his first win.
“Let’s be honest: A lot came at me in a very quick time,” he said. “I just go about this thinking, ‘What can we do to get better on a daily basis?’ ”
Keefe said he has been focused on building sustainable habits and determining how to get the most out of the team collectively and individually.
“This is like a fresh start for us,” Kuzma said. “… Having a [new coach at the halfway point of the season] is tough. It’s something I never went through, a lot of us probably never went through. … I can say one thing about Keefe — it’s no nonsense. If you’re messing with the game, you probably won’t be on the court. For us, I think it just holds a little bit more accountability for all of us to not look bad. You don’t want to be on the film the next day looking crazy.”
Two weeks ago, the Pistons and Wizards shook up their benches with a trade. Washington acquired Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Livers and two second-round draft picks, and the Pistons received Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala.
“It was a little weird, man,” Bagley said of his return Saturday. “I know all those guys. We built a good relationship. So to kind of be on the opposite side of it, opposite bench, just everything, it was a little weird, but it was fun.”
Bagley finished with 13 points and eight rebounds; he has scored in double figures in all six games of his Wizards tenure. The No. 2 draft pick in 2018 said he has gotten more comfortable every game — and just wants to be active and compete hard, which allows him to “sleep at night.”
“His energy has been really contagious for us,” Kuzma said. “You just see it with his offensive rebounding, his rebounding skills. I really like him on offense. I think him playing [center], anytime he has situations where he can get downhill and close space on defenders, he’s tough because he’s long, he’s mobile, athletic and skilled, too.”
Livers (hip) did not play Saturday, nor did Gallinari for the Pistons. Muscala went scoreless in 12 minutes off the bench.
Also, guard Monte Morris (one point in eight minutes) played just his second game with the Pistons after starting 61 for the Wizards last season. In July, Washington traded him to Detroit for a 2027 second-round pick.