Bad 7-minute stretch dooms Pistons as they wrap up 0-4 road trip

Andre Drummond put up 27 points and grabbed 20 rebounds as the Pistons fell to Milwaukee
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

MILWAUKEE – The thing Stan Van Gundy banked on over the summer in building a roster he felt gave him depth and options aplenty was instrumental in the Pistons rolling to a 14-6 start.

But over a four-game road trip that brought the Pistons nothing but frustration and disappointment they experienced the flip side. When the bench gets outplayed, wins are going to come grudgingly.

In the 104-100 loss that wrapped up the 0-4 trip, graphic evidence of that point was on display to start the fourth quarter. With Tobias Harris on the floor with four substitutes – and, even at that, Van Gundy had shrunk the rotation, playing nine instead of 10 with Langston Galloway the odd man out – the Pistons didn’t score their first basket of the fourth quarter until Harris hit a 12-footer with 5:12 remaining.

In that nearly seven-minute stretch with Eric Moreland, Ish Smith, Anthony Tolliver and Luke Kennard joining Harris for the first four minutes of it, the Pistons shot 0 of 9 and committed three turnovers spanning nine possessions. They were outscored 14-1, giving Milwaukee a 13-point lead to protect from a tie game to start the fourth quarter. They still somehow managed to make it interesting, cutting the deficit to three with 1:17 to go and to two twice in the final 20 seconds, but the hole dug was too deep.

To a question of what Milwaukee did to shut down the Pistons, Van Gundy answered,
“It’s also who we had in the game. Resting people. Our bench has not played very well on this trip. We may have to change up our rotations because our bench had been, obviously, really, really good for us and now has not been.”

Andre Drummond was magnificent, scoring a game-high and personal season-best 27 points to go with 20 rebounds, six assists and just one turnover. He shot 12 of 15, but his teammates connected at a brutal .338 clip, 24 of 71.

The two players off the bench the Pistons might expect to produce scoring, Anthony Tolliver and Luke Kennard, shot a combined 3 of 15. Stanley Johnson missed all eight of his shots, four of them 3-pointers. The starting backcourt of Avery Bradley (5 of 13) and Reggie Jackson (5 of 14) struggled, as well. Only Harris (8 of 14, 21 points) provided efficient scoring alongside Drummond.

“We got really stagnant offensively,” Drummond said about the start of the fourth quarter from his viewpoint on the bench. “We were playing a lot of one-on-one basketball at the offensive end and defensively we allowed them to get a lot of offensive rebounds off of free throws to kind of give them life and got them going.”

Van Gundy lamented a few plays that stood out in violation of cardinal rules. Allowing the Bucks to grab those missed free throws, as Drummond noted. Giving up a dunk to John Henson on a baseline out of bounds play with Milwaukee facing a short shot clock and a corner three to Khris Middleton in a similar situation.

“We didn’t do enough of the little things,” he said. “We gave up free-throw rebounds, two of ’em. Screw up some out-of-bounds-play defense. Simple stuff that’s easy to do and we didn’t take care of it.”

“It’s frustrating. Those are the things we can control,” Bradley said. “That’s effort plays. You just have to be locked in and focused on those things. Boxing out on free throws and those plays can’t happen if we want to be the team we want to be.”

Thus concludes a stretch of 9 of 11 games away from home and the Pistons, after starting it 4-3, finish it 4-7. So they’ll welcome coming home, but it’s not like the schedule – by winning percentage of their opponents, second-toughest in the NBA over the past month – gets any softer. Next up: Golden State and Boston, with a cumulative record of 42-10, over the weekend at Little Caesars Arena.

“This is the NBA, man. We’re going to be playing against the best people every single night,” Bradley said. “Even the teams that aren’t above .500, they’re still good teams. You have to make sure you’re prepared and we have to go out there and play hard and get Ws. That’s our main focus. We can’t keep taking steps backward. We have to continue to keep getting better and improving on areas of our game and not repeating the same mistakes.”

“We’ve just got to keep our head up,” Drummond said. “We can’t allow these losses to get us down. It’s a long season. We’ve had a lot of success early in the year. This stretch was bound to happen. What we do with this rough patch will really show our character so we’ve got to continue to play hard and stay ready.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Sunday afternoon’s 91-81 loss to the Boston Celtics at Little Caesars Arena

1-SPUTTERING OFFENSE – It was almost the craziest comeback you’ve ever seen. But it was anything but pretty. The Pistons won at Boston 13 days ago with a sublime offensive effort, racking up 118 points against the NBA’s No. 1 defense. This time around was the opposite of sublime. They got to halftime down only seven points despite getting a combined two baskets from Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris. It went from bad to worse in a hurry after that. The Pistons didn’t score for more than five minutes to start the third quarter, covering nine possessions, and Boston used a 10-0 run to take a 17-point lead. They did an abrupt U-turn after Harris finally cracked the ice, scoring 22 points in the last seven minutes of the third quarter and cutting an 18-point deficit to 10 before Terry Rozier’s bomb at the buzzer put Boston up 14 headed to the fourth. A 12-0 run sparked by two Harris triples that started with the Pistons down 16 pulled them within four with 4:19 to go and Harris had another three that would’ve pulled them within a point rim out. That was as close as they got. The Pistons, who’ve lost six in a row in the teeth of a brutal stretch of schedule, shot 33 percent. Reggie Jackson scored two points on free throws but missed all nine of his shots. The Pistons got off to a good start on offense, scoring 10 points before the nine-minute mark of the first quarter, then scuffled badly for the rest of the half. The Celtics went on a 22-7 run and had 29 points with more than two minutes remaining in the first quarter before also running aground. Harris finished with 19 points.

2-DRUMMOND COOLED OFF – Andre Drummond has been dominant against the Celtics for the entirety of Stan Van Gundy’s run in Detroit. But the Celtics made a lineup switch since their meeting 13 days ago in Boston, putting ex-Pistons center Aron Baynes into the lineup and bumping Al Horford to power forward to give Boston more size and a much better physical matchup for Drummond. Drummond, who had 26 points and 22 rebounds in the first meeting, was scoreless with four rebounds at halftime and finished with six points and 15 rebounds, scoring his only basket on a tip-in with three minutes to play. He averaged 21.3 points and 17.8 rebounds in four games vs. the Celtics last season, 16.8 and 13.0 two seasons ago and 22.3 and 16.7 in Van Gundy’s first year as Pistons coach. Baynes played him to a standoff with six points and 13 rebounds. Horford, matched with Tobias Harris instead of Drummond, got the Celtics off to a good start offensively, hitting 4 of 4 shots – mostly by taking Harris into the post and using his size edge to shoot over him – for eight points in nine first-quarter minutes before briefly exiting and visiting the locker room for what appeared a lower-body injury. Horford hit a big late three and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds.

3-RARE ROOKIE – If the Pistons had beaten the long odds to win the lottery last June – they had seven chances in 1,000 to get the No. 1 pick – Stan Van Gundy let the cat out of the bag who they would have taken: Jayson Tatum. Teammates with Luke Kennard at Duke, Tatum instead was taken No. 3 by Boston. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said he would have taken Tatum with the No. 1 pick – which the Celtics had before trading it to Philadelphia so the 76ers could draft Markelle Fultz. Tatum, meanwhile, is starting for the team with the East’s best record and is third on the team in scoring at 14.3 a game while shooting 52 percent from the 3-point arc. It’s that last bit that, Van Gundy says, no one saw coming. “Anybody who says they’re not surprised by the 3-point shooting based on what he did in college is lying. If there’s somebody who said, ‘Oh, I knew he’d knock down 50 percent of his threes even though he made 32 percent of them from the college line,’ they’re lining. But everything else was there.” Van Gundy said, “I thought he was the best prospect in the draft.” Tatum finished with 11 points, hitting 3 of 5 triples, and his three ball with just under two minutes left to give Boston an eight-point lead stalled the Pistons comeback.

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