Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 114-93 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum
WORST-CASE START – The Pistons got their worst-case scenario for a team playing a back to back on the road against the reigning NBA champions. Dwane Casey had to burn his first timeout just 2:23 into the game with Milwaukee holding a 10-0 lead. It grew to 14-0 and was flirting with disaster for a young team coming off two fourth-quarter collapses against two other title contenders, the Lakers and Heat. But Casey began pulling some levers and mixing up lineups and the Pistons fought back, pulling within three points midway through the second quarter. The Bucks again pushed their lead to 15 early in the third quarter only the Pistons to again claw their way back to six. There was no third push left for the Pistons once Milwaukee stretched a 14-point lead after three quarters to 22 three minutes into the fourth quarter. The Bucks got big games from three players as Giannis Antetokounmpo (33 points), Bobby Portis (28, 6 of 7 3-pointers) and Jrue Holiday combined for 83 points. The season’s longest road trip – five games over nine days – began with a loss against steep odds. The Pistons were again without two starters, 20-year-olds Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes, plus the lynchpin of their bench, veteran Kelly Olynyk. Casey’s bench scored 30 first-half points and finished with 52. Frank Jackson twisted his left ankle in the fourth quarter and didn’t return.
SOLID STINT – Saben Lee has seen more action in the G League than the NBA so far this season, including posting two 40-point performances for the Motor City Cruise, but when the Pistons spotted Milwaukee the game’s first 14 points Dwane Casey went to the bench early and Lee played a role in helping the Pistons get back within three points by the mid-point of the second quarter. In fact, Lee – who’d played a total of 43 minutes in six appearances over the first 17 Pistons games of the season – played 14 consecutive minutes in the first half to help close the gap on Milwaukee and hit both of his 3-point attempts during that time, also contributing three points, three assists and a steal without a turnover. Lee finished with 12 points, five rebounds, five assists, four steals and no turnovers in 29 minutes. The Pistons played their second consecutive game with Lee’s fellow 2020-21 rookie, Killian Hayes, who remains out with a thumb injury.
LIFESAVER LYLES – Trey Lyles is helping the Pistons stay afloat during the absence of both Kelly Olynyk and Isaiah Stewart, which has left rookie Luka Garza as the only true center available to play until Stewart returns from a two-game suspension on Friday. Lyles topped his previous season high of 13 points in the first half alone when he scored 14 and grabbed five rebounds in 12 minutes before having to go to the bench with three fouls. Lyles finished with 19 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. The 12th pick in the 2015 draft – one spot ahead of fellow Kentucky freshman Devin Booker, Lyles is giving the Pistons what they hoped to get when they signed him to a value two-year contract in free agency. He’s playing 16 minutes a game, mostly as Jerami Grant’s backup until the SOS went out for him to plug the gap at center, and averaging 6.8 points and 3.9 rebounds a game while shooting better than 50 percent. Like pretty much everyone else on the Pistons, Lyles hasn’t shot to his career norm from the 3-point arc, hitting 25 percent after coming into the season as a career 34 percent shooter. That held even amid his 19-point outing as Lyles hit just 2 of 8 from the arc but 5 of 7 inside it and made all three of his free throws to complete three-point plays in each one. Garza, making his second consecutive start, put up six points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.