Cade Cunningham insisted he was acknowledging his "people" and not taunting the opposition after he was ejected during the Detroit Pistons' loss to the Phoenix Suns.

The Pistons fell to a 135-108 reverse against the NBA-leading Suns on Sunday as they saw two of their players ejected in the second half.

Cunningham was the first to be dismissed in the third quarter, ending an enthralling battle with Devon Booker, for what referee Kevin Cutler later described as "a physical taunt for pointing at the defender".

Cutler was referring to Cunningham's gesture after he slammed past Jalen Smith and immediately pointed in the 21-year-old's direction, leading to his second technical foul.

But Cunningham – who had 21 points, one rebound and four assists before his ejection – provided a different view after the game as he justified his celebration.

"I had my people right behind the bench," said Cunningham, who finished on 9-for-15 shooting in 24 minutes. 

"I went baseline to dunk the ball, and he's right in between me and my people. I probably should've read that situation better. I don't really get into taunting too much. 

"Usually I'm chilling after a play. I realised the situation after he tech'ed me [technical fouled] up, but I didn't think I was going to get a tech. 

"I let coach Monty [Williams of the Suns] over there, let him know, 'Good game,' and stuff like that."

Detroit trailed by 20 at the time of Cunningham's removal, and that increased to 27 by the end of the game after Josh Jackson was also ejected with 41 seconds remaining.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey – whose side are 10-32, the second-worst record in the league – believes his team must manage their reputation by maintaining strong disciplinary levels.

"He [the referee] said Cade pointed at the guy that he dunked on," Casey said after the game. "I didn't see that part. I thought he was pointing towards his teammate. 

"That's why he said he got a technical for and got ejected for, he already had one. I've seen a lot worse things to get ejected for than that. 

"The Josh one, I haven't looked at it yet. He said Josh hit, or pushed, or whatever at [Ish] Wainright. I didn't see that part either, I have to look at that.

"We're not in a position as a team to complain. Let me be the bad guy to fight for us.

"As a young team, we shouldn't get that reputation of complaining to officials. Until we get to that level, we have to button up and zip up and play our butts off."

Despite Cunningham's dismissal, the 20-year-old has been in fine form recently – averaging 17.9 points, 5.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds since November 30 (a span of 18 games).

With the Pistons looking to bounce back with a trip to the Golden States Warriors on Tuesday, Cunningham insisted that his team are heading in the right direction.

"We're still locked in," Cunningham added. "We feel ourselves getting better and growing together. 

"This is a big road trip that we got to go into. We're going to play some good teams. We're excited to take that challenge on and see what we got." 

Cade Cunningham might experience "growing pains" but will not "be a bust", insists Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey.

The Pistons selected Cunningham out of Oklahoma State with the first overall pick in this year's draft.

Much is expected of the 20-year-old as he seeks to lift Detroit, who finished bottom of the East last season having been in the playoffs as recently as 2019.

Cunningham scored 20.1 points per game in college last year and should offer help to Jerami Grant on offense.

After Grant's 22.3 points in 2020-21, Derrick Rose (14.2) was the team's next-best scorer, and he left for the New York Knicks after 15 games.

It meant the Pistons had the fourth-worst offense in the NBA (106.6 points per game).

Cunningham, who had 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks, is a two-way talent, but the need is less pressing on the defensive end of the floor, where Detroit ranked 10th in giving up 111.1 points.

The focus will certainly be on his scoring, yet Casey is happy to stay patient with the team's young new star.

"One thing I know: Cade won't be a bust. He's not. That's one thing, you can guarantee that," Casey said. "But there will be growing pains.

"We have to be supportive. He's going to have a target on his back each and every night, and it's something that [we], his team-mates, the coaching staff, the whole organisation [have] to make sure we support him.

"There's going to be some nights he scores seven and there's going to be some nights he scores 25."

Reflecting on his status as a number one pick, Cunningham said he was "just writing my own story" and added: "This is a different pressure than I've ever faced before, I guess, but I don't really look at it as pressure.

"It's more an opportunity to show people something than to think about all the bad things that can happen."

He echoed Casey's sentiments, however, as he said: "I know it's the NBA and nothing is given to you.

"You have to be humble coming in and just take it for what it is, just try to work your way up. I feel like if you can be consistent every day and just work hard, the good things will come.

"I'm not really going to press, trying to force the issue too early. I want to make sure everything is smooth with the squad and be patient."

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