The last 30-40 days of being a Pistons fan has been, to put it plainly, the least amount of fun. Generally speaking, there are two ends of the NBA fan spectrum: Euphoric, championship contender confidence on one end, and tankapalooza “I suddenly love college basketball” fan on the other. We Pistons fans have been unfortunately wedged into the least enjoyable middle section of this spectrum, dealing with the dreaded “our team is failing to meet expectations and we’re looking for definitive reasons why but there’s little idea of how it can all change for the better” case. Oh, Hi Wizard fans, it’s nice to meet you here.
Personally, I’ve experienced every stage of grief imaginable.
From denial (“they’re just adjusting to Reggie Jackson’s return!”)
to confusion (“what happened to our defense? What happened to our offense?)
to anger (“TRADE THEM ALL STAN! BLOW IT UP!”)
to acceptance (“At least it’s a great year to be in the lottery?”).
Despite this roller coaster of emotions and grief, the Pistons somehow managed to pull together a two-game winning streak with a proper home court blow out of the Atlanta Hawks at the Palace last night by the tune of 118-95.
A game the Pistons played without Jon Leuer and our star SG (YES I SAID STAR DAMNIT, MORE ON THIS LATER) Kentavious-Caldwell Pope. The Hawks had won nine out of 10. The Pistons still had the stink of blowouts in Oakland and Utah on them. Vegas had the Pistons as 2-point home underdogs! How did this happen?
Meet Reggie Bullock.
If you’re expecting this piece to take a Pitchfork-esque turn where I rave about how Bullock has been a joy to watch since UNC and a whole “I saw him when he was performing in dive bars” type vibe, you can breathe a sigh of relief. I’m not that guy.
(Sidenote: As part of being an NBA blogger, I believe you have to know your brand of fandom. I’m irrational, non-sensical, somewhat absurd, eye test guy. Don’t get me wrong, I love the advanced stats NBA revolution just as much as the next guy that follows Ian Levy on Twitter. But I watch basketball to escape, not to go back to college math classes which I already did terrible in.)
Settling in at the Palace last night, I saw Reggie Bullock listed as the starting shooting guard and I genuinely had no idea what to expect. This is a guy who only appeared in 37 games last year, averaging 11 minutes and three points. I knew Stan considered him one of our better 3 point shooters (I was skeptical) but outside of that, it was a looming, terrifying question mark.
After the Pistons went on a 7-0 run to start the game, I first relaxed because, hey we don’t look awful! But also because Bullock was spectacular to watch.
You can immediately see why a coach like Van Gundy gushes would gush over him because he’s the type of player that does the little things in basketball extremely well. His game is not flashy by any means, it’s cuts, solid shooting and unselfish basketball.
First, the #BullockCuts. I could go on for hundreds of more words about how he kept catching the Atlanta defense snoozing. But my god it was awesome to watch. Just look at these cuts.
Not to get too topical here, but it kept reminding me of a wide receiver finding the soft spots in zone coverage. Particularly that last highlight, he flashes to a soft spot of the Hawks interior defense, throwing their whole scheme awry. What’s better, he’s a little bit stronger/bigger than KCP, making it easier for him to finish inside and clean up any offensive rebounds. Speaking of offensive rebounds.
I might be making this up, but at least a couple dozen basketball coaches in attendance moaned when that play happened.
Secondly, his shooting was something the Atlanta Hawks clearly did not have in the game plan. I’m sure he’s not going to get the same amount of open looks when the Wizards come to town Saturday, because clearly Atlanta didn’t realize Bullock does a mean cover of Billy Squire’s “The Stroke.”
Lastly, on a team with so many “initiators,” it’s crucial to have a player that lets the game come to them. When I say this, I don’t mean someone that simply stands around the perimeter waiting their turn, but someone that stays active, sets screens, makes cuts, and puts themselves in a position for easier opportunities. This, more than anything else, summed up why it was so awesome to watch Bullock. He didn’t need to initiate from the perimeter like Reggie Jackson or Tobias Harris or Marcus Morris, he simply ran his role in the offensive scheme as well as he possibly could, and the opportunities came his way accordingly. There were multiple times last night where he was the first one down the floor after a rebound, sprinting to his position in a certain offensive set before the Hawks could even get comfortable. Again, might be why SVG raves about this guy.
While we’re here, a few other notes from the Palace last night.
- The Palace farewell is in full swing, with the team running a pretty cool video montage halfway through the first quarter. All the Pistons championships. Wrestling and boxing highlights. A weird Paul McCartney quote about the arena. But where the hell were the highlights of the 4-time division champion, 1-time Turner Cup winning Detroit Vipers? Or the Detroit Neon for that matter? Come on Palace Entertainment, we know you got the tapes!
- Added to the list of things I will weirdly miss about the Palace, the weekday NBA games. The location makes it a very undesirable weekday getaway, especially when it’s a game against anyone not from Oakland or Cleveland or Los Angeles. So Wednesday Hawks games, or Tuesday games against Memphis are a smaller crowd, but still a solid basketball crowd. It’s like a bigger sports bar, with terrible prices, and only basketball heads. Thoroughly enjoyable last night.
- The refs were abysmal last night from a flow of the game perspective, making the 2nd and 3rd quarters unnecessarily long. They let the game find a nice flow in the first quarter, only to start calling touch fouls in the 2nd quarter, before swallowing their whistles for the Pistons in the 3rd and still calling fouls for the Hawks. At one point, Tobias was screaming “BS” as he walked back to the bench after a questionable foul committed against a Paul Milsap turnaround. Credit the Pistons for playing exceptional through the unstable flow.
- It was ranted and raved about on Pistons Twitter but Drummond’s all-around effort last night was incredible. Very attentive on defense. Patient and alert on offense. These are the games where I want to go delete every Tweet or text I sent about a possible trade. After an especially tough series of offensive rebounding for a tip-in bucket (with weirdly no foul call) the Hawks called a timeout and Morris found Drummond on the bench for a big bro hug and some chest bumps with words of encouragement. Very cool to see.
Despite the struggles, the Pistons are in a prime, George Blaha patented “Don’t Look Now,” position, being only two games out of the playoffs after another Bulls loss. If players like Reggie Bullock can continue to emerge out, Pistons fans can only hope it sets an example for the rest of the team’s play down the stretch.