Bucks punch first, take away strengths as Griffin-less Pistons struggle to Game 1 loss

Luke Kennard hit 4 of 5 from the 3-point arc and led the Pistons with 21 points in their Game 1 playoff loss at Milwaukee
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

MILWAUKEE – As tough as it might be to envision a scenario where the Pistons beat the NBA’s No. 1 team in a seven-game series without Blake Griffin, it becomes impossible without winning the 3-point line.

It appears the Bucks figured that out, too.

In sprinting to a 20-point lead after a quarter, the Bucks limited the Pistons to just four 3-point attempts – and zero makes – in 26 shots. Wayne Ellington, the key mid-season acquisition who took a whopping 81 percent of his shots this season from the arc, didn’t squeeze off a triple until the last minute of the first half – after he’d taken six shots from inside the arc.

“Staying home, for sure,” Ellington said of Milwaukee’s defensive blueprint after the 121-86 Game 1 thrashing. “Letting the guard and the big man handle the pick and roll, two on two, staying close to shooters. Honestly, all game long, that’s how they played me.”

Milwaukee allowed the most 3-point attempts this season (36.3 per game) and the Pistons were No. 6 in attempts (34.8), but they finished just 8 of 27, a stat the reflects the nature of the playoffs when teams hone in with surgical precision to take away the opponent’s strengths.

That became a considerably more attainable task for the Bucks with the Pistons missing Griffin, whose left knee soreness that cost him four of the regular season’s final seven games – including the playoff-clinching win in the finale last Wednesday – didn’t ease enough in the past four days to allow him to play. Griffin led the Pistons in scoring, assists and 3-point attempts and makes this season and left a gaping hole in the lineup.

Luke Kennard scored 21 points and hit 4 of 5 3-pointers, but the rest of the Pistons shot 4 of 23. Langston Galloway hit 2 of 6, Ellington 1 of 4. Only one of Reggie Jackson’s 14 shots were 3-pointers – 45 percent of his shots this season were from the arc – and he missed it.

“I think we got some good looks at times,” Jackson said. “Just unfortunate that we didn’t make them. But once they got so far ahead against the first unit, I think the game gets easy for everybody when you’re up 20 points. We have to keep it close. Have to muck it up, make it an ugly game. But we have to come out and hit first.”

The Bucks took a double-digit lead less than four minutes into the game and it never went to single digits after that. It was 20 after a quarter, 27 at halftime and 36 after three quarters. Andre Drummond was ejected with four minutes to go in the third quarter for a flagrant-2 foul on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Griffin wound up getting hit with a technical foul in the interlude while the review took place.

“I didn’t think it was a flagrant,” Dwane Casey said. “They were trying to get the game under control. I’ve seen way harder fouls than that, but I understand what they were doing. What I didn’t understand was officials coming over having a conversation with a player that’s not even playing and giving a technical. I’ve got to get an explanation for that.”

Casey didn’t need an explanation for why the game unfolded the way it did, though.

“We didn’t meet the level of physicality and then we tried – we got some cheap fouls. The speed of the game, we’ve got to get up to. We were all over the map defensively. Didn’t get anything done. But we’ve got another level we have to get to with our intensity, physicality, because they’re coming through there with violence, Euro stepping, throwing elbows. We’ve got to make sure we get our level of competitiveness up to start the game. You can’t spot a great team like this that many points and expect to get back into it.”

Without Griffin’s anchoring presence for their offense, the Pistons used a number of Jackson-Drummond pick and rolls early. Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez backed off to take the lob to Drummond away and Jackson found plenty of shots, getting off his 14 attempts in less than 22 minutes, hitting six and scoring 12 points. Other than Kennard, the Pistons never found anything reliable in their playbook. He looked eminently at home in his first taste of the postseason.

“I was more excited than nervous,” he said. “Obviously, it wasn’t the result that we wanted, but it was an exciting atmosphere. I’m excited to play the next game. We’ve just got to be ready to go.”

For certain, Casey will emphasize a more assertive demeanor out of the locker room and explore ways to free up more 3-point shots.

“We’ve got to work together with some of the bigs and get in some screens to get open,” Ellington said. “They were staying on top of me, not letting me come off the handoff. Just got to make an adjustment – and that’s what we’ll do.”

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