Bucks underscore the reality of rebuilding as Pistons venture down a new path
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
DETROIT – There were compelling reasons Pistons ownership and management determined that rebuilding was the optimal path forward after injuries overwhelmed their season.
But all the passionless objectivity that shapes such a decision doesn’t help soothe the soul of the competitive alphas who comprise NBA rosters while enduring the type of losses that come with rebuilding projects.
Against a team the Pistons aspire to be – the Milwaukee Bucks, on track for a 70-win season – one of those stinging losses, and hopefully a valuable less or two, was absorbed as the Pistons embarked on the final 25 games out of the All-Star break on Thursday.
“I’ve been through rebuilding before and I know what it looks like,” Dwane Casey said after Milwaukee took a 29-point halftime lead and won 126-106, improving to an eye-popping 47-8 in dealing the Pistons their fifth straight loss. “This is what it looks like.”
With Andre Drummond traded, Reggie Jackson bought out and Blake Griffin out for the season after undergoing knee surgery last month, the Pistons are leaning on players they never envisioned playing major roles this season.
Because any and all moves are on the table in a rebuilding, no one really knows what the Pistons might look like next season, never mind when they’re ready to compete with teams like Milwaukee on equal terms.
But any reasonable guess as to who comprises their young core would have to include Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown and Christian Wood. And in that Casey at least found a silver lining in the demeanor he saw from them despite being down by 29 to start the second half.
“We’re not good enough to come out and play cool, in second gear,” he said. “We started out talking about that, how hard we had to play, how physical we had to play. But with a young team, it takes going out and getting smacked upside the head a couple of times and wake up a little bit.”
Brown could be the poster boy for the fight Casey hopes comes to embody what being a Piston entails. He came off the bench to finish with 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting, 10 rebounds and seven assists with zero turnovers.
“He played hard,” Casey said. “That’s something that Bruce has to do. He has to compete at that level on every possession. I don’t think anybody else really played that hard in the first quarter, in the first half. Most everybody came out in the second half and competed at that level you have to. But Bruce, I thought he did.”
Langston Galloway, along with the injured Luke Kennard the Pistons who’ve been around the longest though both are just in their third seasons, is a veteran Casey knows will also play that way. He’s in the ears of those young players about what is expected from them over the season’s final eight weeks – and the opportunity that’s ahead of them.
“I think they’re going to do a great job,” he said. “You look at Christian Wood. You look at Svi. You look at Bruce. You look at Sekou. They’re all just playing hard. We’ve got to keep them going, myself, (Markieff Morris), Tony (Snell). We’ve got to continue to push them and keep them moving forward.”
Wood came off of the bench – Casey said it was to limit his time having to guard reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished plus-39 in his 32 minutes with 33 points and 16 rebounds – and led the Pistons with 18 points and 11 boards in 27 minutes. There was some solace, at least, in the fact the Pistons outscored Milwaukee 65-56 after halftime, Wood said.
“We saw we were down a lot,” he said. “Guys were a little mad. They came in here frustrated. I think we did a great job of bouncing back.”
Milwaukee came out of the All-Star break with all the focus of a team with an NBA-title-or-bust mentality. The Bucks didn’t commit a turnover until late in the second quarter, finishing with just eight to 22 for the Pistons. Casey, who took Toronto from rebuilding to the brink of title contention in earning NBA Coach of the Year honors in 2018, has gone down this path before.
“There’s going to be growing pains,” he said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat anything. There’s going to be growing pains with the group that we have left. But you give yourself a chance to win if you play hard and compete at a high level as we did in the second half.”