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The Close Out: Pistons lost chance for local cred by getting blown out by Cavs

Blowouts happen, but this one hurt for one particular reason.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Pistons laid an egg at home, losing against the Cleveland LeBrons 116-88, then took a three-day rest before winning in Oklahoma City 99-98.

A light work week which Detroit split has them sitting at a healthy 12-6 record, but has anyone in the metro-Detroit area noticed?

Games like the ugly Cavalier loss happen during an 82-game season: It was their third game in four nights and the back end of a back-to-back. Explaining a “schedule loss” to the casual fan while their eyes glaze over, however, is a long-winded waste of time.

“Back-to-back? So what, they’re young!”

“Schedule loss? In my day, we played three times a day and we were thankful!”

Yada, yada, yada - Even though they’re on the wrong side of basketball science, they’re on the right side of the cramped attention span most sports fans have.

The 28-point Cavaliers loss didn’t bother me, but the timing of the game — in regards to fighting for public absorption — put a dent in my Pistons sales pitch.

People (probably not CheerstoLilWayne or Merwinly) would stand in line to buy tickets to watch LeBron James sell hotdogs, let alone play basketball. There was going to be a buzz around the casual community with or without the Pistons’ services, and it would surely be a talking point the next morning. More eyes than usual would be directed at the Pistons.

At one point, Cleveland led by 39.


It was only a single game in the loss column, but it probably pushed the part-time fans’ timeline of taking this team seriously back a bit, and that’s the part I hate.

(It was a schedule loss!)

Detroit regrouped and headed west to win a game in Oklahoma City they had no business winning. 21 turnovers, outscored 50-38 in the paint, outscored 21-5 in second chance points, nine (!) total free throw attempts, a 27-11-11 Russell Westbrook triple double, and down by as many as 15 points in the third quarter. Add it up and you have a one point Pistons win.

Math was never a strong suit of mine, so below we’ll take a look at how that equation actually works. We’ll also dive into the Cavs suffocating PNR defense, how to get Tobias Harris to the next level, and ask the question: “Why doesn’t Andre Drummond demand the ball?”

Inside the Pistons’ playbook

Like any team, the Pistons have a go-to collection of sets and play types. Here we’ll break down the plays used often by the Pistons, along with variations and break down the process and the results.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen this look:

Same set with different results here and here.

Langston Galloway hit three shots beyond the arc, including this one on a floppy double screen to tie the game against the Thunder:

On the year, Galloway is connecting on nearly 44 percent of his three-point attempts. Admit it, he’s better than you thought.

Andre Drummond continues to be the hub of the offense:

(For those keeping track at home: six assists and 12 turnovers for Dre on the week)

Ball and player movement on offense are night and day compared to last year. All players on the floor are a threat to score and distribute - well, all execpt one.

Tobias Harris has been nothing short of fantastic, but suffers from a severe case of tunnel vision when he’s attacking the basket. I get it, he’s a scorer, and bucket-getting is at the top of the Things To Do list, but he should be a better facilitator:

As James commits, that’s got to be a dump-off to Dre.

1.8 assists per game and a nine percent assist ratio are both too low for someone as talanted as Harris. He has the tools to become an active playmaker, but those tools seemingly never leave the garage. Harris’ aggressive mindset doesn’t have to change, in fact, it’s the key component to creating plays like the example above.

As-is and with the Pistons’ success, he’s an All Star. Smartly picking and choosing when to hoist and when to get others involved, however, could catapult Harris into the next tier of forwards on the national scale discussion, while simultaneously making the Pistons that much scarier on offense.

This Week’s Trends and Dead Ends

A closer look at the habits —both good and bad—of players, coaches, and maybe even DBB commentators. Discover what the Pistons are getting really right, and understand what to look out for going forward.


Basketball is so easy!

Move to the places where the defense isn’t. A special Thank You to Avery Bradley for kindly demonstrating.

OKC leads the league in isolation possessions, and down the stretch against Detroit, they relied on hero ball to bail them out. It didn’t work:

Westbrook, Anthony and George shot a combined 7-for-26 from the field in the fourth quarter, allowing the Pistons to take control of the game. Um...thanks!

My main man Ish Smith - it’s impossible not to like him. As Detroit continues to fine-tune its defense, often times Smith’s rotation has him matched up with a much larger human:

No shot goes uncontested if it’s in the vicinity of Smith. He’s a busybody who sometimes can get a bit too busy on defense, as he has a tendency to foul the jump shooter. Smith has collected nine more fouls on the shooter than Reggie Jackson with 146 fewer total minutes on the year than Jackson.

I won’t ask him to change.


Three straight second quarter trips ended with 6’2’ Langston Galloway flailing helplessly away at 6’11’ Channing Frye:

The Pistons — as a whole — had trouble getting a hand in the face of Cleveland shooters:

The Cavs connected on 16-of-33 long balls.

Detroit (especially Tobias Harris and Anthony Tolliver) has made it a point to show hard on a pick-and-roll this year, but the recovery needs some work:

Trapping and hedging is part of NBA defensive life, and it’s the Cavs preferred choice against Detroit. Cleveland did everything in their power to negate the Pistons’ pick-and-roll by making Reggie Jackson get rid of the ball by any means neccessary:

If Jackson is unable to turn the corner and touch paint on the PNR, and there is no counterpunch, then it’s going to be a long night no matter who Detroit is playing.

Teams ballsy enough to continually trap a Detroit pick-and-roll will be in a constant state of rotation and recovery, surely leaving them mismatched at some point during the possession.

The Pistons by oversight (unlikely) or design (likely) rarely take advantage of the big-small mismatch. The big — usually Andre Drummond — sets up to rebound while the ball handler dances around the perimeter hoping to create enough room to get a shot off:

Above, Drummond is in the paint checked by Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and Jose Calderon on three different possessions, but never sniffs the ball.

Again, actively seeking Drummond to finish off an unqualified post-defender is such a scarcity that it must be a Stan Van Gundy choice but, man, they’re leaving a handful of Dre-with-two-feet-in-the-paint-looks on the table each game.

Rare doesn’t mean never, though:

OKC is another switch-happy team and on the above possession, the Pistons made them pay. Dre with two feet in the paint backing that wide bubble-butt into a featherweight point guard isn’t the same as a typical post touch. I’d like to see it utilized a bit more.

High/Low: One Highlight, One Lowlight of the week

Not all good and bad plays are created equal. Some stick out and make you take notice. Or they’re just so funky they deserve a special place of their own.


Super alert play by Langston Galloway:

OKC runs the Spain pick-and-roll, which includes Andre Roberson setting a back screen on Drummond (who’s the big defender on the traditional PNR). Galloway smells it out right away and doesn’t allow Westbrook to get to the hoop. Luke Kennard tops off the stop with a timely three.


When the scouting report goes wrong:

Cleveland loves to run the baseline flex screen with LeBron James and the Pistons were prepared as exampled by Drummond’s help-steal. Next, though, Harris shades too much and can’t recover to contest the Jae Crowder threes.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

The biggest game of the franchise’s history takes place on Monday, when your Detroit basketball Pistons visit the Eastern Conference leading Boston Celtics.

Ok, that might be a bit much, but it’s still an important game.

Avery Bradley returns home and we can check in with Friends of the Program Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes.

Bradley checks Kyrie Irving as well as anyone in the league and their back-and-forth is worth your time. Harris has lined up with center-types Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Love recently, what about a guy like Al Horford?

Here’s to Morris’ mid-range game and Baynes’ lobster claws......