DETROIT, MI - MARCH 27: Jayden Ivey #23 of the Detroit Pistons goes to the basket against the Milwaukee Bucks on March 27, 2023 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)(Brian Sevald)

Rookies Ivey, Duren dazzle but Bucks pull out a win over Pistons

Three quick observations from Monday night’s 126-117 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at Little Caesars Arena

ROOKIE RAVES – Against a Milwaukee team that’s gone 24-4 since Khris Middleton returned to the lineup on the night the Bucks last came to Detroit in January, the Pistons came up short but emerged from the night feeling pretty good about a number of the young players who’ll help steer the direction of the franchise over the next several seasons. Start with the two rookies, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. Ivey’s progress as a decision-maker has been most noticeable over the past two months, but coming off an aberrant nine-turnover game at Toronto he put together a dazzling night. Ivey had his fingerprints all over a 39-point Pistons third quarter that left them within four points, scoring 14 points on 4 of 6 shooting and hitting all six of his free throws to go with three rebounds and three assists in the quarter. Ivey finished with a career-high 32 points to go with eight rebounds and eight assists. He shot 9 of 19 overall, 3 of 6 from the 3-point line and made all but one of 12 free throws. Duren, slowed by ankle injuries earlier this month, has come back strong and was especially impressive against Milwaukee. After Brook Lopez baited him into a few quick fouls, Duren found his footing and played with poise and assertiveness the rest of the way. He finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes. In the end, the 3-point disparity spelled the difference. The Bucks outscored the Pistons 42-21 from the 3-point line and hit three in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter to expand their lead from three to 14 while the Pistons were going 0 of 3 from the arc in that time.

WORK TO DO – Asked before the game what Dwane Casey still hoped to explore in the season’s final two weeks and eight games, he didn’t hesitate to say the priority remains to experiment with lineups involving two big men at a time. Isaiah Stewart remains out after being diagnosed nearly three weeks ago with a hip impingement that was to be re-evaluated in three to four weeks and it seems unlikely the Pistons would risk rushing him back into the lineup. Stewart, though a relative newcomer to power forward after making the transition earlier this season, is also the most advanced of Casey’s big men in some aspects, 3-point shooting volume and accuracy in particular. So the remaining time will give Casey a chance to evaluate which pair among Jalen Duren, James Wiseman and Marvin Bagley III function best together and which one is best positioned to provide minutes at power forward next season. One of the measuring sticks for Casey is one that probably will go mostly unnoticed by others: transition defense. It was an area, Casey said, where Stewart had really made strides. Wiseman was frustrated early in Monday’s game, hitting 2 of 8 shots in the first half while he struggled with Brook Lopez’s size. But he adjusted well and finished with 14 points, finishing 5 of 12.

WINNING BLUEPRINT – The Pistons, who trailed Milwaukee by 25 points after one quarter the last time the Bucks visited Little Caesars Arena, hung around a lot longer this time – and if the Bucks were missing Giannis Antetokoumpo and Jrue Holiday, the Pistons were down Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks, Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart and Hamidou Diallo – because they took care of a lot of the little things much better. They trailed by six at halftime despite shooting just 36 percent because they were good in transition defense, limited turnovers (six) and more than held their own on the boards with the towering Bucks and scored 10 second-chance points. But that 36 percent shooting made it hard to do any better than stay close and it was the blueprint Dwane Casey knew the Bucks would employ. “They’ll give you as many mid-range shots as you can take,” Casey said. “You can’t make enough to win in today’s game.” Sure enough, Milwaukee was smothering at the rim, holding the Pistons well below 50 percent on shots in the paint for much of the first half before they pulled their heads above water with their strong third quarter.