Dealing with Defense

Pistons playoff push relies on halting regression Loyer sees on defense

Kyle Singler
The Pistons have work to do on the defensive end.
Brian Babineau (NBAE/Getty)

The box score from Sunday’s game at Boston – the Detroit half of it, at least – looked a lot like Pistons fans might have envisioned it last summer when they signed Josh Smith in free agency to slot alongside Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in a frontcourt that held every promise of being consistently productive verging on dominant.

The Pistons bludgeoned Boston up front. Drummond, Monroe and Smith combined for 68 points and 47 rebounds, which breaks down to 22.7 points and 15.7 rebounds a man across the front. Staggering numbers.

Yet the Pistons had to rally to lose by seven.

When John Loyer was asked after the 118-111 loss if his team’s shot selection contributed to the loss, he made it pretty clear where he felt the real problem was rooted.

“We score enough to win,” he said. “We’ve got to defend. You score 111 points, you better have a good chance to win the game. We didn’t defend.”

In Loyer’s 13 games, the Pistons are 3-10 largely because they’re surrendering 107.8 points a game, allowing teams to shoot 48 percent. The Pistons now rank 27th in scoring defense at 103.8 for the season, ahead of only Denver, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia. The Pistons have sunk to a tie for last with Philadelphia in opponent field-goal percentage at .469.

“Our defense has regressed to the point where you kind of do some things starting over,” Loyer said.

The first element of sound defense is basketball at its most basic: winning the one-on-one battle. But NBA offenses, particularly given the increasing role played by the pick and roll, have become increasingly sophisticated in creating mismatches or advantages that virtually ensure the defense won’t be able to maintain its preferred matchups for 24 seconds.

That doesn’t excuse the frequency with which the Pistons get beat off the dribble or with simple one-pass moves, but it’s going to happen. What comes next also has proven troublesome.

“Then the multiple effort takes over,” Loyer said. “When guys get in the lane, you’re naturally going to give help, but that’s what team defense is all about. Sometimes on a dribble penetration, you’re going to get a kick (pass back out to an open shooter) and then they kick it again. That’s a little bit tougher. But we’re getting beat on one-pass kickouts. You need multiple efforts. You need multiple guys flying at ’em and trying to make them make one more play. We don’t make teams make one more play enough.”

The Pistons have given up 110 or more points in six of Loyer’s 13 games, including five of the last eight. In addition to giving up too many points at the basket as a result of dribble penetration, the Pistons are finding teams shooting a high number of 3-point shots against them. The Celtics came into Sunday’s game 20th in the league in 3-point attempts at 19.9 per game, but took 13 in the third quarter alone and 31 for the game.

As out of sync as the Pistons have too frequently appeared defensively and for all the failed opportunities to gain ground in the standings, they remain only three games behind Atlanta in the playoff chase. Something as simple as a two-game winning streak would shake things up dramatically.

“The guys know what’s at stake,” Loyer said. “It’s not like anybody in front of us is running away from us. There are a couple of teams behind us trying to make a push to pass us by. There are four or five teams in the same boat we’re in. If you go out and win a game, you feel like you’ve got a great chance. If you go out and lose a game, you’re down in the dumps and wondering when you’re going to win the next one. You’ve just got to get a win and build on it.”