Pistons punch back, but Bucks throw a knockout punch in second half for 2-0 series lead
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MILWAUKEE – If the 35-point margin of defeat in Game 1 didn’t adequately speak to Milwaukee’s dominance, the 19-point gap in Game 2 doesn’t fully reveal the strides the Pistons took in three days.
If they can close the gap by that much again – and if they get an incremental boost from playing at Little Caesars Arena – and if they get Blake Griffin back after a fleeting hope he might play in Game 2, then … well, who knows where this series might go?
“Made them feel us,” Reggie Jackson said after the 120-99 loss – the Pistons led 59-58 at halftime, undone by a Milwaukee flurry to start the third quarter – gave the Bucks a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series. “A little bit disappointed in the second half, but I think for the most part we came out and competed. Score doesn’t tell the full story.”
Dwane Casey made a handful of adjustments, none more critical than the fight the Pistons took to the Bucks from the get-go. Luke Kennard started for Bruce Brown, a move that worked for both units. Andre Drummond took over primary defensive responsibility for Giannis Antetokounmpo, doing a reasonable job of limiting the damage the MVP candidate inflicted for much of the game. Daring use of a four-guard lineup enabled the Pistons to surge to their halftime lead.
It was their shooting that betrayed the Pistons. Beating the 60-win Bucks probably isn’t going to happen if they don’t make at least 40 percent of their 3-pointers. They made a third, instead – 12 of 36.
“We had great shots,” Brown said. “We moved the ball. We took the shots we wanted to take. They just didn’t fall tonight. They’re going to fall back home.”
Kennard led the Pistons in scoring for the second straight game, scoring 19 and hitting 4 of 6 from the 3-point arc. Langston Galloway was the only teammate who beat the average, though, hitting 3 of 5. The rest of the team: 5 of 25.
The Bucks are clinging to Kennard, Wayne Ellington and Galloway, creating scoring chances for others. But Thon Maker, Glenn Robinson III and Ish Smith shot a combined 8 of 32.
“They were already trying to take Wayne out of the game in Game 1,” Jackson said. “Not really allowing us to get kickouts to him. We were trying to find different ways to get him going. You put another shooter out there and playmaker like Luke, they have to be honest. I benefitted from it.”
Jackson scored 18, hitting 7 of 16 shots. Drummond had 18 points and 16 rebounds. But the Pistons shot just 37 percent despite creating shots that they didn’t generate in numbers in Game 1. Casey will especially emphasize their second-quarter execution, when the Pistons shot 46 percent in scoring their 32 points.
“The drive-kick-swings, the kickouts were the key to the scoring,” Casey said. “We got 32 in the second quarter and then we took the shots they wanted us to take in the third quarter and we’ve got to reverse that.”
Without Brown in the starting lineup, the Bucks were really only able to play off of Maker, who struggled through another tough shooting night. He hit 2 of 9 and missed all three of his 3-point shots.
“I’ve got to shoot the ball better and, if not, continue to make better decisions,” he said. “But I’m going to have those looks all day. I can’t rush those shots. Take my time, go back to the gym and get shots up.”
Casey didn’t waste any time trying to take advantage of Kennard’s insertion into the starting group, running a play on the game’s first possession that produced a triple Kennard drained.
“They’re staying home with shooters, with me and Wayne out there,” he said. “They’re respecting our shot and it opens the floor a little more, gives Reggie some space to create. We got the shots we wanted – especially in the first half and second quarter – because our defense was really good. We got back in transition and were able to get some stops and get out and run. Transition offense is some of our best offense. It was good for us.”
Brown’s defense was as critical as Kennard’s scoring to delivering the Pistons to halftime with a lead. His five points, two rebounds, two steals and one block don’t speak to the impact Brown had on the second-quarter surge.
“Bruce played great,” Kennard said. “The way he can impact the ball, that’s big. His energy, you kind of feed off of that. He got a steal and took it on the break, pitched it back to me, I got a three. That’s a momentum changer.”
That counts as progress. The momentum never changed once in Game 1. The Pistons punched back in Game 2. They couldn’t throw their haymaker because they simply shot it too poorly. The uphill climb is steep, coming home needing two wins to give themselves any chance to inject some suspense into this series. But the combination of the resolve they showed and Casey’s chess moves give them at least a puncher’s chance.