Pistons Fall to Bucks
New-look Bucks get big game from Gooden in 16-point win
It won’t have any impact on determining this year’s NBA champion, but the most intriguing trade of the season was one engineered by ex-Pistons executive John Hammond. Now general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, Hammond traded franchise cornerstone but often-injured center Andrew Bogut to Golden State for Monta Ellis, pairing him with Brandon Jennings in a backcourt the equivalent of a Porsche running next to a Ferrari.
The Pistons caught their first glimpse of the Jennings-Ellis guard tandem Friday night and … yeah, still intriguing.
Milwaukee scored 113 points and accumulated a staggering 36 assists on 45 baskets – including 23 on 25 second-half baskets, when the Bucks outscored the Pistons 61-50 – in winning by 16 and staying on the heels of Philadelphia and New York in the chase for the last playoff berths in the East.
Jennings, Ellis and veteran big man Drew Gooden all had eye-opening numbers – they combined for 64 points and 25 assists – but it was Milwaukee’s clawing defense that set the tone for the night, forcing six quick turnovers that rocked the Pistons back on their heels early.
“You saw right from the beginning, they were picking us up, denying our entry pass, into our bodies on screens,” Lawrence Frank said. “We had those six quick turnovers, but the tempo they played at and the disposition, they were the definite aggressors and it impacted us. Over the course of time, they imposed their will.”
“It definitely limited us a little bit and changed how we wanted to play,” said Brandon Knight, who scored 25 points to go with eight assists and five rebounds. “We let it affect us in the beginning. We allowed their pressure to dictate a lot of the stuff we did and it led to easy baskets for them.”
Turnovers aside, the Pistons were sharp offensively in the first half, when they shot 48 percent and scored 47 points, trailing Milwaukee by five. But the Bucks opened the second half with a 6-0 run and led by double digits for the game’s last 20 minutes. Gooden was dynamic in the third quarter, making showy passes and running up 10 points and five assists in the quarter alone.
“They scored six quick points and then Gooden started getting a really good rhythm,” Frank said. “They were the aggressor. Just passing and catching they made difficult for us. Dribble handoffs were difficult. They were into our bodies, into our skin. They played with a desperation, urgency, for 48 minutes.”
Ben Gordon backed up Knight’s 25 with 24 of his own, getting them on 8 of 12 shooting and going 7 of 7 at the line. He led a 10-0 run early in the second quarter to rally the Pistons from 11 down to one, but they couldn’t get enough traction defensively to allow the efficient scoring Knight and Gordon provided move them into striking range.
“They’re that good,” Gordon said of Milwaukee’s firepower. “They’ve been doing that since they made that trade. With Monta and Brandon Jennings and just the way they play, they put a lot of pressure on you. They did a good job tonight of getting where they needed to get. They had balanced scoring. They gave us some trouble.”
New York won and Philadelphia lost Friday night, making them tied at 31-28 for the final two playoff spots. Milwaukee’s win puts them two behind the 76ers in the loss column at 29-30 with seven games left for all three teams. It’s not likely the Bucks would beat either Chicago or Miami in a seven-game series, of course, but the Ellis-Jennings backcourt makes them about as dangerous as a No. 8 seed could be. They did some convincing at The Palace, at least.