Instant replay: Pistons doomed by another sluggish start to third quarter, fall in Milwaukee

Blake Griffin scored 31 points in three quarters but the Pistons were too far behind for him to get back on the court after that in their loss to Milwaukee.
Nicole Perez/NBAE
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

MILWAUKEE – As much as the Pistons would have preferred erasing the memory of how their five-game winning streak was snapped by Oklahoma City, it was still pretty fresh 48 hours later. Just like on Monday, when they sputtered offensively but still got to halftime down just 10 points, so it was against Milwaukee. The Pistons shot 40 percent – 22 percent from the 3-point arc – and were still within arm’s length, down 11.

So they knew they couldn’t afford anything but flying out of the blocks to start the third quarter. Oklahoma City took that 10-point lead to 29 in seven minutes. The Bucks, 11-2 coming into the game in their new home, Fiserv Forum, and owning the NBA’s No. 1 offense, surely were capable of the same.

“We knew they were going to try to come out and punch us in the mouth,” Langston Galloway said after the 115-92 loss. “We tried to hand around and continue to fight – and they got the best of us tonight.”

The 11-point deficit went to 16 in two minutes, to 23 in four minutes and to 26 in less than five.

“Discipline,” Dwane Casey said, citing the defensive lapses that compounded themselves as the Pistons let their shooting frustration seep into other areas of their game. “I thought we started out doing a good job on the 3-point line and then they got away from us. We got sucked in and (paid) too much attention to (Giannis) Antetokounmpo, rightfully so, but there’s things we’re supposed to be doing behind the guy defending him that we didn’t do.”

The Bucks score 120 a game to lead the NBA and average 40 3-point attempts. Mike Budenholzer has taken the spread offense he brought with him from Atlanta and put it on a steroids diet, fueled by the freakish Antetokounmpo’s length and versatility and the 3-point shooting range of 7-footer Brook Lopez. With Lopez floating at the 3-point arc, Andre Drummond was eliminated as a deterrent to penetration. Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe was the thankful beneficiary, scoring 18 of his 27 points in the first half, many on uncontested drives.

“It’s a different game today,” Casey said. “It’s a different concept. When (Drummond is) out there guarding a 3-point five man, he’s got to be disciplined and the people behind him have to be disciplined and understand what they’re supposed to do in those situations. And we didn’t do a good job. That’s on all of us – coaching staff, players, everybody.”

It didn’t lift anyone’s mood that the Pistons lost a key rotation piece for a second straight game. On Monday, Reggie Bullock lasted three minutes before spraining his left ankle for the second time in a month, something Casey acknowledged could be a more lasting concern. This time it was Ish Smith, who heard a pop in his right groin as he darted toward the basket in the second quarter. It was labeled a strain.

“Get an MRI tomorrow and see what’s the deal,” Smith said. “But I don’t think it’ll be anything terrible. I think it’ll be fine.”

Without Smith and with Galloway moved into Bullock’s spot in the starting lineup, the second unit that was such a weapon for Casey – and especially during the five-game win streak – had one of its worst showings of the season. Through three quarters – before both coaches cleared their benches – Pistons reserves had combined for nine points on 4 of 27 shooting.

The starters didn’t have much greater success, Blake Griffin the stark exception. After three quarters, the Pistons trailed 84-64 with Griffin scoring 31 points on 11 of 21 shooting while the other four starters combined for 24 on 10 of 27 shooting. The Pistons finished at 37 percent overall and 24 percent from the 3-point line.

“We’ve got to pick it back up,” Casey said. “We’ve got to understand and have the same sense of urgency we had against Houston, against Golden State. We have a bull’s eye on us now. You’re in that middle part of the playoff race. Everybody’s fighting for something and these next gauntlet of games are going to be like that. Our fight level has got to go up.”