Pistons don’t quit scrapping, but a 41-12 free-throw disparity paves way for Bucks sweep
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Three quick observations from Monday night’s 127-104 Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at Little Caesars Arena
END OF THE LINE – Dwane Casey challenged his team’s pride to avoid a first-round sweep and the Pistons responded with easily the most competitive game of the series – it was a one-point game late in the third quarter before the Bucks overwhelmed them in the fourth quarter – but one that they ultimately lost in large part because they sent Milwaukee to the foul line way too much – growing increasingly frustrated with the lopsided foul tally as the game went on. The final count gave Milwaukee a 41-12 edge in free throws with the Pistons amassing 31 fouls to Milwaukee’s 21 . In the third quarter alone, Milwaukee shot 15 free throws (two for the Pistons). One unfavorable byproduct of that was the Pistons – after their highest-scoring half of the series, 62 – managed just 23 third-quarter points in part because they rarely were able to play in transition. Milwaukee used a 12-3 run to close the third quarter to open its biggest lead at 10 and then scored the first five points of the fourth quarter. An early 11-0 run put the Pistons ahead 20-8 by the midway point of the first quarter, the best stretch of the series along with the second quarter of Game 2 to take a halftime lead. But four straight empty trips to end the first quarter allowed Milwaukee to trim its deficit to two points. The Bucks led briefly early in the second quarter, but the Pistons took a six-point lead into halftime with their highest-scoring half (62) of the series. Reggie Jackson scored 20 of his 26 points in the first half, the first Pistons player since Rip Hamilton in 2008 with at least 20 points in a half of a playoff game. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 41 points for Milwuakee, 16 in the third quarter when he shot nine of his 20 free throws.
BENCH STRUGGLES – When Luke Kennard’s production dipped from 40 points in games 1 and 2 to nine in Game 3 with Blake Griffin back, Dwane Casey opted to return Kennard to his role with the second unit and bring Bruce Brown back with the starters. Kennard again struggled to get off 3-point shots as Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game that denying Kennard scoring chances had become a point of emphasis for Milwaukee. Kennard, who hit 7 of 11 from the arc in the first two games, took only four 3-point shots total in games 3 and 4 – his first made triple in the last two games came in the final two minutes of Monday’s loss – finishing 1 of 3 in Game 4 and scoring 11 points. Casey’s bench other than Kennard has struggled to get anything in the way of efficient scoring. Ish Smith (9 of 32), Thon Maker (5 of 20) and Langston Galloway (7 of 23) shot a combined 28 percent over the first three games. Smith and Maker struggled again, Smith finishing 1 of 6 for two points and Maker 2 of 6, missing all three of his 3-pointers. Galloway gave the Pistons a first-half spark in Game 4 with eight points and three assists, but couldn’t turn it on again after halftime, finishing with 10 points and shoot 4 of 11 overall and 2 of 7 from the 3-point arc.
FOUL TROUBLE – Even before all three Pistons big men – Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Thon Maker – picked up three first-half fouls, Dwane Casey was making heavy use of a four-guard lineup that he’d employed at other times throughout the series. The Pistons made it work more to their advantage in the first half by holding their own on the glass with a 24-23 edge after being outrebounded by 8.7 per game over the first three games. But the constant foul trouble meant Casey’s hand was forced more in the second half and the Bucks came back to again dominate the backboards, finishing with a 54-36 advantage. It’s unlikely Casey would have chosen to play a minute without both Griffin and Drummond on the floor, but when each picked up a fourth foul early in the third quarter he had to go that route instead of giving the Pistons their best chance to widen or hold the lead. Griffin fouled out with 7:06 to play with 22 points, five rebounds and six assists to a standing ovation from fans who recognized what he endured to come back from the painful left knee injury that dogged him over the last three weeks.