Misfiring in Milwaukee

Rip’s 4 of 17 return typifies tough shooting night in Pistons loss

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– With Rodney Stuckey reinstalled as the starting point guard, John Kuester called his number frequently to take advantage of the lopsided size-strength advantage Stuckey holds off Bucks second-year point guard Brandon Jennings. Stuckey scored 16 points in the first half. He finished with 25 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals. Stuckey got to the foul line 10 times, making nine.

BLUE COLLAR – Milwaukee was laughably thin in the frontcourt with its top four players out – Andrew Bogut, Drew Gooden, Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. That left them with only raw rookie Larry Sanders, undersized plugger Jon Brockman and journeyman Earl Barron, signed to a 10-day contract this week. Brockman, a second-rounder picked by Sacramento in 2009 out of Washington, made the most of his rare opportunity to start, finishing with eight points and eight boards. Brockman’s greatest contribution was on the offensive glass, where he collected seven of his eight rebounds, enabling the undermanned and undersized Bucks to outrebound the Pistons 50-45.

RED FLAG – The game marked the return of Rip Hamilton, playing for the first time since Feb. 5 – at Milwaukee, ironically enough – but the layoff took its toll. Hamilton made only 4 of 17 shots and finished with 10 points in 26 minutes. He wasn’t the only one who had trouble connecting. Ben Gordon was 4 of 12, Will Bynum 2 of 7, Austin Daye 3 of 8 after making his first three shots, and Charlie Villanueva 5 of 12. The Pistons were 5 of 23 in the fourth quarter after taking a three-point lead into the period.

John Kuester said Monday that the Pistons were starting fresh – minutes would be earned by production, regardless of stature, in games after time was earned in practice. In the wake of a disjointed performance against a woefully understaffed Milwaukee team, auditions presumably will be ongoing.

The Bucks went into the game without their top four frontcourt players – Andrew Bogut, Drew Gooden, Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. That left them with undersized 2009 second-rounder Jon Brockman; raw rookie Larry Sanders, in the D-League just last week; and NBA journeyman Earl Barron, just signed to a 10-day contract.

So with a chance to build off the momentum generated by their win over Utah in which Kuester used all nine players available and lauded the team’s cohesion and energy, the Pistons didn’t shoot it straight all night – a night marked by the return of a rusty Rip Hamilton, who shot it especially crooked in a 92-90 loss.

Both teams are fighting long odds in what remains of the East’s playoff race, but the Bucks came out of it in better shape than the Pistons at 23-36 to Detroit’s 22-40. Playoffs or not, it was a disappointing showing by the Pistons if for no other reason than whatever it appeared they had captured in scoring 120 points against Utah had little carryover effect the next time out.

Milwaukee scored the game’s first seven points and it took the Pistons the better part of three quarters to catch up. Then the Bucks scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter – and that didn’t give the Pistons nearly enough time to come back again on a night they never found a rhythm, their 5 of 23 shooting in the fourth quarter ultimately dragging them down.

“We couldn’t sustain it, but we did end up having good looks and just couldn’t finish it,” Kuester said. “That was the frustrating part. I’m looking at it, I’m saying, we’re getting the type of shots we want. We had some great looks and just couldn’t knock ’em down.”

Nobody had more trouble knocking them down than Hamilton, playing for only the second time in nearly two months. In 26 minutes, Hamilton shot 4 of 17 and finished with 10 points.

“Boy, was he coming off screens,” Kuester said. “He had some great looks. Normally, he’ll knock those shots down. I was very pleased with his energy. His approach to the game was outstanding. We’ll get him going.”

“He’ll be all right,” said Rodney Stuckey, reinstalled as the team’s starting point guard. “He hasn’t played for a couple of months, but he’ll get back to his old ways. He missed a lot of shots that he usually makes, but we all believe in him.”

Stuckey was about the only thing the Pistons had going for them, using his considerable size and strength edge over any guard the Bucks cared to throw at him – slight Brandon Jennings, pint-sized Earl Boykins or veteran Keyon Dooling. Stuckey finished with 25, but only he, Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell made half or more of their shots. The rest of them made less than a third of their attempts – 19 of 60.

Still, they had a chance to win it. After falling seven behind the Bucks, they were within two and had a chance to tie or take the lead when they got the ball back with 30 seconds left. Will Bynum penetrated and found the player who’s emerged as their big-shot artist, Austin Daye, for an open triple from the deep left wing.

“I just was fading away a little bit, so I shot it short,” Daye said. “I was kind of off-balance, but I had a good look. Usually they fall, but it’s going to happen where you miss some.”

That’s the way the game went for the Pistons. And, really, that’s been the story of a season where momentum is forever elusive.