Down 2 starters and then losing a third, Pistons can’t match Bucks firepower
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Monday night’s 125-115 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum
3 STARTERS SHORT – The Pistons would have had their hands full with the Milwaukee Bucks at full strength, but they were missing two starters when they tipped off for the first of two consecutive games against the team that’s had the NBA’s best regular-season record two years running. One of them was Blake Griffin and the guy who took his spot at power forward – Jerami Grant, also the Pistons leading scorer this season at 23.2 per game – lasted 99 seconds before picking up two quick fouls trying to guard two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo scored 30 first-half points – he finished with 43 on 17 of 24 shooting – and a few minutes into the second half, the Pistons lost a third starter, rookie Killian Hayes. Hayes, in pursuit of Jrue Holiday after a turnover, appeared to be in pain and grabbing at his right leg as he fell to the court while Holiday was going up for a layup. Hayes was ruled out for the rest of the game at the end of the third quarter with a right hip injury. The Pistons were within seven points early in the third quarter when the Bucks spurted to go up 18. The Pistons pulled to within eight points with five minutes to play behind the scoring of Grant (24, his sixth straight game of 20-plus points) and Derrick Rose (24 points, eight assists) and were still within eight when Antetokounmpo scored on a put-back with 1:39 to play – so consider it a win for the Pistons, at least, that the Bucks still had to have their MVP in the game in his 35th minute of a game where the Pistons were on a back to back against a rested Milwaukee. Griffin sat out for routine maintenance of his left knee – the one he had surgically repaired a year ago and as he did in the first back to back of the season last week. Also out was free-agent find Josh Jackson, who sprained his ankle in Sunday’s third quarter. The good news is Dwane Casey said before the game the Pistons were being cautious with Jackson’s injury and he expected he’d be back for Wednesday’s rematch with the Bucks. It was the first game this season that the Pistons, now 1-6, didn’t hold a lead at some point of the fourth quarter.
ELLINGTON IN – Dwane Casey chose to bring veteran Wayne Ellington from outside the rotation to the starting lineup in Jackson’s spot at shooting guard. Doing so allowed Casey to keep his second unit intact and also to accommodate a more functional frontcourt rotation with Blake Griffin missing and Jerami Grant switching to his spot at power forward. Using Ellington as the starter at shooting guard allowed Casey to have Svi Mykhailiuk available to split time at small forward with rookie Saddiq Bey. Ellington helped the Pistons stay within arm’s length – they trailed 67-56 at halftime – despite Antetokounmpo’s fireworks by hitting 3 of 4 triples in an 11-point first half on his way to 13 points. Casey also used Rodney McGruder, who hadn’t played in the first six games. Delon Wright – who appeared to be in line for a night off, not playing in the first half – came on in the third quarter when Hayes was injured. In addition to Rose’s 24, other bench scorers in double figures were Mykhailiuk (13) and Sekou Doumbouya (13).
PLUMLEE’S A PLUS – Mason Plumlee doesn’t get much attention on a team where Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose draw headlines and so much focus is on rookies Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, but he’s been everything the Pistons hoped when they signed him to a three-year contract in free agency to be their starting center. He’s playing a career-high 29 minutes a game and is one of the NBA’s leading rebounders, averaging a career-best 10.7 a game. He’s also proven to be an excellent secondary facilitator for a unit with a rookie running the point. Plumlee came into the game averaging 3.7 assists – third behind Rose and Hayes – and against Milwaukee he picked up five in the first quarter alone. Dwane Casey throttled down on Plumlee’s minutes in Monday’s second half – again, it was the third game in four nights and Plumlee has played heavier minutes than he ever has – so Plumlee finished with four points eight rebounds, six assists and a steal in 20 minutes.