Pistons momentum ground to a halt with Bucks free-throw parade in Game 4 loss
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DETROIT – Whatever chance the Pistons had to win a game and change the course of their first-round playoff series died at Milwaukee’s free-throw line. Time of death: late in Game 4’s third quarter.
After their best offensive half of the series – the Pistons scored 62 in Monday’s first half and led by six at the break – momentum ground to a halt when Milwaukee got to the foul line 15 times in the third quarter alone. The Pistons knew they needed to get all the transition scoring chances they could muster to have a shot against the NBA’s No. 1 defense. There’s no tougher way to score than taking the ball out of the net after a made free throw.
“That was the story of the game,” Blake Griffin said of Milwaukee’s jaw-dropping 41-12 edge in free throws. “Giannis (Antetokounmpo) shooting eight more free throws than our entire team, you’re not going to win a game like that. Their team shooting 41, you’re not going to win a game like that.”
The Bucks scored on eight and-ones in the first three quarters alone. By halftime, Bruce Brown had picked up four fouls and Griffin, Andre Drummond, Thon Maker and Luke Kennard had three apiece.
Griffin, grinding through the left knee injury that cost him four games late in the regular season and the first two games of the playoffs, fouled out with 22 points, five rebounds and six assists in less than 28 minutes. He shot two free throws to Antetokounmpo’s 20.
“The way he’s attacking the basket, I’ve got to go back and watch the film,” Dwane Casey said. “For him to shoot two free throws and Antetokounmpo 20, that’s a huge discrepancy for two players going to the basket.”
Casey got hit with a technical foul with 4:35 left in the third quarter with the Pistons leading by three points. By the time the quarter ended, the Bucks led by 10. Five minutes into the fourth quarter, it was 20.
“That’s an experienced team on the other end over there,” Drummond said of the Bucks, who’ll meet Boston – which swept Indiana – in the second round. “Like I said last time, when we make mistakes, they capitalize on them. Overall, just a really good team. Tough to beat.”
The Bucks, who acquired quality veterans George Hill and Nikola Mirotic during the season to deepen and diversify their bench, dominated second-unit play throughout the series. Only Kennard was effective off of Casey’s bench throughout the series as Ish Smith (26 percent), Thon Maker (27 percent) and Langston Galloway (32 percent) all shot poorly.
Kennard, after one game in the starting lineup, was moved back to the bench to try to balance the two units a little more. But the Bucks clung to him and Wayne Ellington, Casey’s two most dangerous 3-point shooters, limiting them to only six combined 3-point attempts.
To try to generate offense, Casey used a four-guard lineup liberally throughout the series and again in Game 4. But that exposed the Pistons to getting manhandled on the glass. Milwaukee outrebounded the Pistons 31-12 in Game 4’s second half and by an average of 11 rebounds a game.
“They did a great job of setting the tone of how the series was going to be played,” Casey said. “I think our guys took away how hard you have to play to compete at this level.”
Reggie Jackson led the first-half offense, scoring 20 of his 26 points, including a highlight-reel put-back slam dunk to give the Pistons a 62-56 lead at the break. But Milwaukee was able to do what title contenders do – take away the things they prioritize and make the other team beat you another way. Jackson’s six second-half points came on just six shots, though he picked up four second-half assists.
Antetokounmpo finished with 41 points, 15 coming at the line. He blocked four shots and Brook Lopez added five as the Bucks generated a fair bit of their offense off of blocked shots and Pistons missed layups.
But, as Griffin suggested, there was nothing much else that mattered other than the 31 Pistons fouls – the Bucks were whistled for 21 – that ground the game to a halt and sent Milwaukee to the line possession after possession.
“Some of that’s on us fouling and several times allowing them to get and-one,” Griffin said. “I did it twice, I think. Some of that’s on us, but some of that’s a little bit out of our control and I think that really messed up the flow of the game for us.”
Casey’s first season fulfilled its base mission of getting the Pistons back in the postseason and now it’s incumbent on him, his coaching staff and the players who’ll return in 2019-20 to put the experience to good use.
“We take from it how hard you have to play, the intensity you have to play with for 48 minutes,” Casey said. “I think that’s something that will help us next year going into the season.”