Before last night’s Pistons game against the Golden State Warriors, I wrote about my disappointment, frustration, and above all else, my anxiousness. I knew that last night’s game would be a packed house, with many new-ish Pistons fans in attendance and I feared that if the Pistons from the games against Chicago, the Pacers, or Washington showed up, there would be a backlash. I’m happy to say that none of those teams showed up.
Instead, the Pistons fought, hustled, and, for 46-ish minutes, matched Golden State blow for blow, entertaining the capacity crowd to a fantastic NBA game, despite the outcome for the home team. The Pistons ended up losing 119-113 but it was close the entire way, with the Pistons maintaining small leads for long stretches of play. Stretches where I had my head in my hands, turning to people and saying “I don’t know how we’re doing this.” Most of the time the response I got was, “please sit down” or “stop yelling” or “don’t ask questions.”
Thankfully, hindsight is 20/20 and I can now see that the main reason for such a good game was defensive effort.
I know this sounds weird when the total score ended up in the 230s but for the most part the Pistons were locked in on defense. KCP contained Curry magnificently for the first half, fighting through screen after screen to pester him the second he touched the ball. By the end of the second quarter though, you could see KCP being drained from the defensive effort, and from running into Draymond, McGee, and Zaza for 20+ minutes, a reason why I suspect Stan started switching more in the second half.
Leuer’s defensive impact on the starting unit also was a breath of fresh air. He was closing out on shooters, and hustling to grab long rebounds (which, if anyone has a stat on this, I am convinced the Pistons lose the most long rebounds out of any team in the league. It’s so goddamn frustrating). Even Drummond was engaged for most of the first three quarters, recovering on switches quickly and doing his best impression of a rim protector.
The defensive MVP though had to be Stanley Johnson, who reminded us why he might should stay off your trade machines for a little bit longer. He had stretches guarding Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant last night, and did such a good job on KD that Stan left him in down the stretch in the fourth. He had three beautiful steals anticipating the Warriors ball movement and showing off the athleticism and defensive instincts we saw more of last season.
Offensively, we had the best ball movement I’ve seen for this team since November. The ball moved well around the perimeter and the offense didn’t die after the first action of play got denied. If Reggie’s pick and roll didn’t work, KCP and Leuer had a nice two man game going.
So, why did we lose?
Gun to my head, I think there’s three key things I can point out. Missed free throws, Reggie’s possession with oe minute left in the fourth, and Drummond falling asleep on the inbound play to Draymond.
The Pistons went 17 of 28 from the line for the night, leaving 11 points on the table that could’ve lead the team to a win. Stanley, Ish, KCP, and Reggie all missed key free throws in a close game, and those five points would’ve changed a lot of possessions down the stretch.
Then there was Reggie’s possession and Drummond’s defensive mishap. First, Drummond got caught cheating on an inbound play screen, hedging towards the three point line. Draymond saw and made the obvious cut for an easy dunk. I thought Stan Van was going to explode.
Then there was Reggie. With a minute left, down two and needing a bucket, Reggie reverted to the hero ball approach, despite how well ball movement was working for the night. To Golden State’s credit, they defended the high pick and roll so well that Reggie had no choice but to dribble off the play, but the lost possession was a backbreaker for the Pistons hopes. Next possession, Klay hits the dagger and exits.
To be honest, I feel bad pinning the loss on two mishaps from our best players. They both played, for the most part, very good games. They were engaged. They were hustling. Reggie is so so SO close to being back, missing some shots that he knows, and we know, he will make in a week or two. But against the Warriors, it only takes a few mistakes. They are just that good of an offensive team, you really can not give away any possessions.
Leaving the game, I felt excited about the loss. It was a winnable game but after the past week, just seeing that this team was still capable of fighting was a breath of fresh air, and all the holiday cheer I needed for the night.