To the surprise of few, the Detroit Pistons lost game one of their first-round playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks. If there was a surprise, it perhaps came with how badly the Pistons lost… by 35 points.
However, All-Star forward Blake Griffin was held out with some knee soreness, so the Pistons seemed primed to turn things around on Wednesday with Griffin back in the lineup.
That sounds great, except it was announced this morning that Griffin, who is officially listed as day-to-day, is expected to miss the entirety of the series.
The Pistons aren’t dead in the water yet, though. It’s only 1-0 in Milwaukee’s favor and if anything, a hideous blowout loss can often rejuvenate the locker room. Coach Dwane Casey will also have plenty of ugly film to point out how the Pistons found themselves in a first quarter deficit of 20 points en route to a near 40-point loss.
Here are four remedies for the Pistons to turn their fortunes around in game two on Wednesday:
DRIVE THE BALL WHEN ANTETOKOUNMPO SITS
It may be credit to Milwaukee’s defense, but aside from Luke Kennard with a team-high 21 points, the Pistons were hopeless on offense all night long. Reggie Jackson (15.4 points per game in the regular season) mustered only a dozen points, and Wayne Ellington (12 PPG) scored only five, as not a single Pistons starter matched or exceeded their regular-season scoring average.
The Pistons were settling for tough jumpers, rushing shots and too often not looking to finish at the rim. It’s obvious that driving the lane with 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo clogging it up is a daunting task, especially given that the Pistons’ primary threats to drive are 6-foot-3 Jackson and 6-foot-4 Ellington.
So, when the Greek Freak is on the bench, the Pistons MUST take advantage. Albeit a blowout, he only played 23 minutes in game one. When he’s on the bench, Jackson, Ellington and backup guards Kennard and Langston Galloway need to penetrate the Bucks defense.
This isn’t to say that Bucks center Brook Lopez is an easy obstacle — by no means is that true — but the Pistons’ best chance to lay the ball in is when Giannis sits. We didn’t see enough of that during the 25 minutes that he sat in game one.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 121, Pistons 86
Another advantage to driving the ball is that the free throw line will open up for Detroit. The Bucks doubled up the Pistons in free throw attempts in game one, shooting 26 free throws to the Pistons’ 13. Coupled with the fact that Milwaukee missed 12 of its shots from the stripe, this is an area where the Pistons could have capitalized, and did not.
LET DRUMMOND GUARD ANTETOKOUNMPO
This might sound like a joke, but bear with me. For much of the second and third quarter, before Andre Drummond’s flagrant-2 ejection, his assignment was to guard Giannis. Though it looked a little peculiar at times, it was actually effective.
Realistically, Giannis is going to have an advantage against any defender league-wide besides maybe a Kawhi Leonard or a Kevin Durant. However, the Drummond matchup is intriguing.
Giannis is listed at 6-foot-11 and 242 pounds, while Drummond is listed as a flat seven-footer and 280 pounds. Yes, there are actually players in the league that are bigger than the Greek Freak.
Drummond approaches the matchup by giving Giannis space to shoot the ball, because he doesn’t pull up for many jump shots. In fact, he didn’t make a 3-pointer until the third quarter and finished the game with only that one make in five tries from deep. By inviting Giannis to shoot the ball, Casey likes the Pistons’ chances of securing the rebound and getting off to the races.
Elsewhere, Drummond is too big and his lateral quickness is good enough to not let Giannis through to the basket consistently. Of course he’ll get crafty and he may scoop around Drummond, but he can’t and won’t go THROUGH him.
Giannis is going to get his throughout the flow of the game, but when we take into account that Griffin is most likely out for the series, Drummond better get used to guarding the Greek Freak. He’s the best option Detroit has, and dare I say it, he did a fairly good job in game one.
TAKE AND MAKE 3-POINTERS
I know, it’s cliche. This is 2019 when teams shoot 40 3-pointers per game with ease. Whoever makes more is likely to win the game, and the Pistons struggled immensely from deep in game one, going eight for 27 as a team (29.6%).
This is especially disappointing given that the Bucks didn’t do a whole lot better, making 15 of their 43 attempts (34.9%). Sure, they nearly doubled the Pistons in makes, but attempted 16 more.
It’s tough to get hot from deep on the road, but the Pistons’ typically reliable 3-point shooting guards were ineffective in game one. Between Jackson, Ellington and Galloway, the trio shot a combined 3-for-11 from deep with Galloway hitting two of them. Forward/center Thon Maker also took six threes and didn’t knock down a single one.
Luke Kennard was really the only bright spot from three, as he hit 4-of-5 attempts. Don’t be at all surprised if Kennard gets the start over Bruce Brown or Ellington in game two.
The point is, the Pistons need to simply take smarter shots, and obviously it would be nice to make them. Swinging the ball around and getting more open looks will in turn help the Pistons collect more than their 22 assists in game one to the Bucks’ 31. Expect a much more relaxed and patient squad on Wednesday.
KEEP DRUMMOND OUT OF FOUL TROUBLE (INCLUDING FLAGRANTS)
The Griffin-less Pistons have no path the victory without Drummond leading the charge. In order to stay on the floor, he’s got to stay out of foul trouble. Drummond is the best rebounder in the NBA and pulled down 12 in game one to go along with 12 points before his ejection. Against a team like the Bucks that shoots a lot of threes, it’s beyond crucial to limit their offensive rebounding. They managed eight in game one and won the rebounding battle 46-39.
I already detailed how Drummond is the Pistons’ best hope to guard Giannis, so that alone is necessary enough to keep Drummond on the floor as much as his body will allow. However, his low-post scoring is often overlooked by opposing defenders, including Brook Lopez. This is an area that Casey could look to go, especially if the Pistons struggle from deep as dramatically as in game one.
By now you’ve all seen Drummond’s flagrant-2 foul on Giannis. The Greek Freak grabbed an offensive rebound beside Drummond, and as he went up for the putback, Drummond gave him a shove. Drummond immediately went to help Giannis up, but was assessed a flagrant-2 nonetheless and thrown out of the game in the third quarter.
With the NBA’s postseason flagrant foul rule, players are given a maximum of four “points” before they are suspended for the following game. Flagrant-1 fouls are worth a single point and flagrant-2 fouls are worth double. So, Drummond is halfway to a suspension, and once again the Pistons need him on the floor to have any shot.
Overall, Drummond’s athleticism and size, as well as his presence as, at the very least, somewhat of a roadblock for Giannis, make him the Pistons’ most key player for the rest of the series. They’ll need him to continue to put up his typical monstrous double-doubles if they want a shot to extend this series, and in turn buy Griffin more recovery time.
Some comfort that I can offer ahead of game two is that Dwane Casey is one of the finest coaches in the whole league. He knows exactly what needs to change to turn the tables on Milwaukee. If the Pistons can steal game two on the road, they’ll head back home with a brand new series ahead, all even at one game apiece.