Well that was fun.
Watching the Pistons soundly handle the two-time returning champion Golden State Warriors on Saturday was an unusually low blood pressure-d affair. It felt more like the way Warriors fans have felt the last four years. Fun, exciting, a bit tense but never really in doubt, even when you look at the numbers and see that they didn’t even shoot that well.
Golden State kept threatening but Detroit calmly kept responding, parrying every blow with an assortment of line ups and styles that honestly must seem a bit disorienting for an opposing coach. The excitement in watching came less from a doubt of the outcome of the game and more from the lineups Dwane Casey threw out there and being fascinated by how the energy ebbed and flowed between them.
On one end of the spectrum you have with the very deliberate half court offense lead by the defacto point guard Blake Griffin, where he basically says “this is what we’re going to do, everytime”. On the other end you have the frenetic beautiful chaos of the second team lead by the roadrunner* speed of Ish Smith (meep meep!) which basically is “try to figure out what we’re doing here because even we don’t know exactly what’s going on”.
(*Hat tip to Mike Snyder)
Both styles are unsustainable for a complete game but work so well in tandem as complete changes of pace. And Casey masterfully was able to slide in combinations of those two offenses so things never got predictable, and the players seemed to thrive off of this, which is of course what is the inherent necessity of a system like that that works only because it never seems to stay the same. Players have to be ready to go with the flow because they never know exactly how long they’ll be out there or who they’ll be playing with.
There is a lot being said about the fact that the team now sits at a very similar record to the team that last year plummeted out of playoff contention seemingly immediately after pundits began to buy into the idea they were for real. The squad, especially the one on the floor, is not so different to the one from last year. But one key element (besides a Reggie Jackson injury) that does seem different is that the team seems to be gelling more than ever.
In a very telling account from former Piston SG great Richard “Rip” Hamilton when he sat down with George Blaha and Greg Kelser during their broadcast of the game on Saturday night he said there was a different energy on the bench this year. That the players were pulling for each other more than they had done in the past few years. Yeah, those would be the Stan Van Gundy years (at least).
Whether this is more to do with Casey or the other new members of the coaching staff or new vets or a training camp with Blake Griffin it’s impossible to know. But there seems to be a level of buy in from the players to trust each other and play a type of system like this, where playing time and lineups vary. You can’t play like this if they don’t.
Of course it’s easy to be excited after a win like this but what’s really encouraging is that their offensive numbers weren’t even that good. They were monsters on defense but that’s a whole other story.
But the system is starting to get there, and that’s what’s most exciting.
“Our guys understand their roles and they are accepting the role and being the most valuable player they can in that role,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “We’re playing with energy and we were able to beat the champs on a night when we only shot 44 percent and 34 percent from the line.
“We know we can play better than this.”
Where the team goes from here is a mystery but the trajectory is a good one, and the man steering seems to be going for back-to-back Coach of the Year awards, although I imagine he’s just doing his job the only way he knows how (but wouldn’t that be a nice response to being fired from Toronto ?).
The rest of this next stretch of brutal matchups will let us know a lot more about where this team will end up after 82 games but this last one definitely whets the appetite.