Griffin, Rose return but flurry of Minnesota early triples sets tone in Pistons loss
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Monday night’s 120-114 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Little Caesars Arena
NOT SO HAPPY RETURNS – The Pistons gave their fans a game as wild as the weather. On the night Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose returned, Minnesota buried them early under an avalanche of 3-pointers – 8 of 10 in the first quarter – as furious as the Veteran’s Day blizzard raging outside Little Caesars Arena. Down 19 midway through the third quarter, the Pistons rallied to within six, fell back by 13 again, then rallied one last time to pull within five on a Tony Snell triple with 2:27 to go. Minnesota answered with its 14th triple, though, this one from Andrew Wiggins who led the Timberwolves with 33 points, and there was no more comebacks in the Pistons. Casey elected to start Rose as well as Griffin while also keeping Luke Kennard with the starting unit, meaning his four most dynamic scorers – those three plus Andre Drummond – were all sharing the floor. Griffin scored 16 first-half points and looked not even a little bit tentative, finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 24 minutes, playing between five and six minutes to start each quarter, the pattern broken only when he returned after Snell’s triple to pull the Pistons within five. He made 6 of 12 shots. Rose’s timing was off, shooting just 3 of 13 on the same variety of mid-range jump shots and drives that fueled his torrid start. He also was limited, playing 20 minutes. Kennard led the Pistons with 25 points. Langston Galloway added 18 off the bench. The loss snapped a Pistons eight-game winning streak against Minnesota after having lost the previous 10 to the Timberwolves.
TRIAL AND ERROR – Dwane Casey didn’t get much of a chance to see how his best players fit together in preseason given that Blake Griffin only played in the first two games and the Pistons were being cautious with Derrick Rose, so it’s going to take him some time to figure out how to balance his units and find the best two-, three-, four- and five-man combinations. The decision to start Rose with Griffin, Andre Drummond and Luke Kennard gave him his four best scorers in the starting unit – pending Reggie Jackson’s return, at least – but made it more challenging to field a second unit that scores enough. Casey mitigated that as best he could by keeping Kennard out longer than Rose and Griffin, but the last 3:26 of the first quarter – when Langston Galloway replaced Kennard to make it an all-bench unit – saw the Pistons get outscored by 14 points. Surely early foul trouble to Andre Drummond messed up Casey’s rotation as he likely would have finished the first quarter to stabilize the bench unit. Casey juggled his lineup to start the second half, moving Tim Frazier into the starting unit for Rose. Also compounding Casey’s balancing act was the minutes limits for Griffin and Rose.
DOWN-LINE IMPACT – Among the spillover effects of getting Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose back was seeing Casey go to a 10-man rotation – he’d been at nine for the most part while both missed games – with Christian Wood the odd man out, though he cut it back to nine in the second half when Svi Mykhailiuk didn’t play. Thon Maker stayed in the mix as Andre Drummond’s backup at center and with Drummond limited to 11 first-half minutes by foul trouble, that meant a longer run than anticipated for Maker. With Rose going into the starting lineup at the same time as he and Tim Frazier both returned after a four-game absence, Casey had a decision to make at backup point guard and went with Bruce Brown over Frazier. Frazier, who’d missed time with a right shoulder strain, kept a heat pack on his shoulder while on the bench but was on the floor to start the second half with Rose coming off the bench. Brown was on the pregame injury report – listed as probable – with a right knee contusion. Brown played 14 first-half minutes, Frazier played 10 second-half minutes.