Pistons to-do list for Game 2 starts with attacking Cavs’ small-ball lineup

Reggie Jackson will be the centerpiece as the Pistons figure out how to attack more effectively when Cleveland employs its small-ball lineup.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Playoff series are living, breathing things. They change, morph and often emerge as something unrecognizable from their origins. Stan Van Gundy has no idea which path Game 2 will follow, but he knows this much: The Pistons are going to see Cleveland’s small-ball lineup with Kevin Love at center until they come up with a better way to deal with it.

And he knows that lineup is going to be a handful for the Pistons on the defensive end. But the best way to dissuade Cavs coach Ty Lue from going to it more often or consistently in fourth quarters for the rest of their first-round series is to punish Cleveland on the defensive side when they go to it.

For all of the big shots Cleveland hit to come from seven down early in Game 1’s fourth quarter to win 106-101, the Pistons would have been OK if they had been able to sustain the offensive efficiency they produced over the first three quarters. But after hitting their first two shots of the quarter to go up by seven, the Pistons missed 13 of their next 17 shots. Cleveland got away with ganging up on Reggie Jackson up high, daring the Pistons to beat them four on three behind the play.

“We didn’t do enough and my play calling wasn’t great and we didn’t attack,” Stan Van Gundy said after Monday’s videotape study and Pistons walk-through. “We didn’t attack it well. Some of it was our guys took bad shots, but that’s on me, as I said after the game.”

The ball is largely in Jackson’s hands, both literally and figuratively, in how the Pistons attack Cleveland’s small-ball lineup from this point on. There’s a reason NBA teams are reluctant to extend defenses or apply full-court pressure: It provides too many opportunities to make one-on-one plays close to the basket. You can get away with it in high school, where a team might have one gifted ballhandler, or even in college, where you might have two or even three.

If Jackson can get the ball out of his hands quickly when double-teamed, then it will be up to Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to attack quickly in four-on-three situations, or for Andre Drummond – generally stationed at the foul line – to turn and exploit a three-on-two situation.

“He’ll have the ball in his hands. From there, you’re making whatever play is there,” Van Gundy said, citing the case of the series’ central character, LeBron James. “LeBron’s one of the greatest examples the league has ever had. If you put two guys on him, what’s he do? He passes the ball. The defense can do certain things. You’ve got to be able to take what they give you.”

Jackson said he has a better idea after watching Game 1 video and huddling with Van Gundy of how to attack Cleveland’s blitzing next time around – get better at attacking the rim against a defense with Love at center and no shot-blocking threat.

“Go back and watch a little more film to figure out more ways to attack it with him being at the five. (Talking with) the coaches and staff and constantly with the players, trying to figure out a way to combat when he goes to the five and they go to their small lineup. Playoffs is all about being tough and going out there and attacking and making adjustments, who can make ’em on the fly to help their team. We’re figuring it out.”

If they can figure it out effectively enough to change the course of the fourth quarter – and put themselves in the same favorable position through three quarters that they did in Game 1 – there will be plenty of twists, turns and intrigue in the series ahead.