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The Close Out: Pistons made watching basketball a chore

Detroit goes 0-3, and drifts further into Detroit sports apathy.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

13 games remain in another depressing Pistons season, and for this particular blogger, the end can’t come soon enough. Sad, isn’t? Spend all summer and early fall looking forward to Detroit hoops and now I’d rather punt on third down.

The Pistons should be better. By “better” I don’t mean rubbing elbows at the same lunch table as the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors, but there’s enough talent - even without Reggie Jackson - to be a 45-ish win team. At best, we should be having the sun-kissed season the Indiana Pacers are currently enjoying. At worst, we should be at the Eastern Conference kiddie table with the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks. Instead, the Pistons’ invitation got lost in all the Christmas card mail.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Try as you might, and some of you certainly do (shout-out to the Doom Squad!), you cannot convince me otherwise.

For some, 45 wins doesn’t mean much. That’s cool, I’m not going to tell you how to fan properly. Me? I’m part of the much more lenient audience and just looking for meaningful April basketball.

Does anyone know if John Taffer does basketball teams? If so, please DM me his contact information. I’ve got a helluva challenge.

As a reminder, we’re finishing The Close Out this year looking through the opponents’ glasses. Below, we’ll gush over Denver’s Nikola Jokic, review Portland’s prolific motion offense, and go over how the Blazers ran the pick-and-roll.

Inside the Pistons’ opponents playbook

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

Utah’s half-court offense dismantled the ill-equipped Pistons’ defense, and deserved a post of their own.


Jamal Murray finished with a game-high 26 points including 5-of-8 three-point shooting. Above, a well-designed back-screen grabs the attention of Ish Smith as Murray positions himself to accept the handoff.

Bigs Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee can and will operate from the top of the key. Doing so means there is a lack of rim protection. (Remember when Andre Drummond was positioned like that?) Here’s a give-and-go that can be applied in every driveway two-on-two game and, apparently, against our your Pistons:

And again:

We’ll see more Jokic in a bit.


Portland’s Fist Motion (also known as Flow) is a staple of the Terry Stotts playbook, and without fail, it leaves its fingerprints on every Blazer game. The big looping routes ran by their perimeter players is a dead giveaway Fist Motion is on deck, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to defend.

Jusuf Nurkic catches just enough of Reggie Bullock to free up C.J. McCollum.

As with all motion-based offense, there are numerous options. If the initial flare screen doesn’t produce a look, the movement simply continues until something opens up.

McCollum curls off a single screen and hits Bullock with a Nowitzki-like fade.

The choices are endless. Below, Evan Turner goes through and the play morphs into a Damian Lillard-led pick-and-roll:

For more Stotts fun, click me. Warning: the continued player and ball movement might cause some Pistons’ fans to feel nauseous.

In other motion offense news, this default handoff action was effective:

As was this wing back-screen:

In the first clip, you’ll notice a(nother) miscommunication between Ish Smith and Luke Kennard. It wasn’t the only one:

Which Smith-Kennard mishap wore it better? These two, or the two SLOB sets from last week against Toronto?

Yep, this is where we’re at this season.

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’ opponents are doing really well, and understand what to look out for going forward.


Chop cut

The basketball-lingo dictionary is filled with all sorts of fun definitions to describe assorted actions. What you call a certain activity simply depends on where (or who) you learned it from, as the synonyms are almost never-ending.

In my hood, any cut following the roll man off a PNR or DHO is called a chop cut. Jonas Jerebko, will you please give us an example:

Thanks Jonas, have a seat and grab some water.

Next up, Devin Harris:

Good stuff, Dev.

OK Pistons, you’re up. Let’s see if you were paying attention:

Sigh (get better Gary Harris, I hated seeing that).

Rolling with a purpose

After a screen, there is rolling to the basket and there is rolling to the basket with a purpose. The difference in outcomes between the two is same distance between, oh I don’t know, a playoff team and a lottery-bound team.

Rudy Gobert proudly demonstrates what rolling with a purpose means. Moving in a meaningful way is what winning teams do. Going through the motions is a trait of a defeated team.

The Joker

With 23 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in the Nuggets’ win over Detroit, Nikola Jokic completely overwhelmed the Pistons’ defense. As we saw from the playbook, Denver will often place the genuine stretch-five at the top of the key, which allows for all types of productive off-ball movement:

He’s a rather special dude.

Of all the “Stop. The. Ball.” plays the Pistons’ defense has yielded this year, THIS might be the most embarrassing (Editor’s note: I have been dreading the inclusion of this clip since Thursday):

Oh my lord. Who wore it better? Jokic or DeMar DeRozan from last week:

Ugh, what a disheartening question that is.

Defending Portland’s PNR

In an effort to get the ball out of the dangerous hands of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Detroit often used a hard hedge (and trap) during the Blazers’ pick-and-roll:

The drop coverage is probably better described as the slow-to-react coverage:

While the less popular and bold “no defense” defense surprisingly paid off:

As did Blake Griffin’s risky matador strategy:

Congrats? On a side note, I’ll stick up for Griffin on offense, but his defense, at times, has been downright putrid.


Honestly, the 0-3 week didn’t produce anything worth your time or anything you haven’t witnessed before. On behalf of the Pistons and all of DBB, I apologize.

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.


The Pistons show their cards too early, and Maurice Harkless smartly slips the screen:

Who wore it better? Harkless or Ante Zizic from the last week’s Cleveland game:


When you’re going to use a hard hedge to defend the pick-and-roll, as an on-ball defender, you cannot get beat if your man rejects the screen. Kennard has shown a nasty habit of doing just that all year long. Below, as I was about to yell at him, he corrals the gifted shot-creater C.J. McCollum and defends well:

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

You and I both know that you don’t care what happens this week. (Who DOESN’T love a great matchup between the Kings and Pistons at 10 p.m! -Ed.)

On the bright side, the Tigers home opener is only ten days away! From what my people tell me, though, the Tigers might make us yearn for Pistons’ basketball to begin. What a horrible loop. What did we do to deserve this?