Over the past two months, the Detroit Pistons have won without a traditional small forward in their rotation. Rookie Bruce Brown has worked in a pinch, but the position is one of desperate need going forward and it will likely lead to their downfall come playoff time.
Bojan Bogdanovic reminded us of that on Monday.
The Indiana Pacers forward closed Detroit out in Indianapolis, scoring 19 points to lead the struggling Pacers past the Blake Griffin-less Pistons, 111-102. Playing a second-straight game without their hobbled star, out with a balky knee, the magic from the come-from-behind win over the Portland Trailblazers this past weekend was gone.
Bogdanovic’s triple with 2:33 to go put the Pacers up 10, a lead that the Pistons would only threaten in the final seconds on a long Wayne Ellington jumper that cut it to 7. Ellington, the buyout standout, led the Pistons with 26 points.
Detroit led by 10 after one quarter thanks to 15 points from Ellington, who came out just as hot as he finished the game against the Orlando Magic last week. What makes Ellington so much fun to watch is that he sticks to what he does well. He doesn’t try to do too much. He knows he’s out there to shoot, so he lets it fly.
That’s why he’s been such a good fit with this team.
But the Pistons just needed more. With Langston Galloway (3-of-10 shooting) playing sick and Luke Kennard out injured, the bench was short. Kennard would have given the Pistons another longer body to throw at Bogdanovic as well as another ballhandler/scorer.
When this team makes 12 threes like they did against Indiana, they’re going to hang around. But they aren’t good enough to sustain entirely on those shots. Without Griffin, they lacked a go-to scorer, and it showed late.
Reggie Jackson scored 22 points but struggled to get going in the fourth against rookie Aaron Holiday.
Andre Drummond finished with 18 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals, but it wasn’t an easy night against Myles Turner. Thon Maker, who has been great at the little things the Pistons ask of him off the bench, was good as a help defender and as a corner 3-point shooter… but the rest of his night was not.
He was victimized countless times trying to guard Thad Young (19 points), Sabonis (18) and Turner (17). The Pacers did a good job attacking Maker’s flaws, though he did finish with 14 points and 4 blocks.
He also did this, which was kind of cool:
Thon Maker's vert barely saved him from a painful accident.pic.twitter.com/lnWp7YL1K7— Sporting News (@sportingnews) April 2, 2019
Zaza Pachulia’s impact was minor, but he got physical and slowed Sabonis early in the fourth quarter. It might have been the first time all night — maybe all season — that Sabonis didn’t have his way down low with this team.
And that looked like it had an impact on Sabonis’ game because he was out of control after Pachulia departed. The Pistons got the break they needed with just over six minutes to go as Sabonis fouled out battling Drummond for a rebound.
Sabonis isn’t the Pacers’ best player, but he’s certainly their most impactful. But even six minutes of Sabonis-free basketball to try and mount a comeback was not enough.
The Pistons missed Griffin, sure, but that wasn’t why they lost. The defense that carried them against Portland wasn’t there on Monday. Indiana shot 54 percent from the field and 45 percent from downtown. Seventeen turnovers by Indiana kept Detroit in the game.
Still, they get another shot at these vulnerable Pacers at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday where they will hopefully have Griffin back.
Luckily, the rest of the NBA finally did the Pistons a favor after a loss. The Heat lost to the Celtics, the Magic lost to the Raptors and the Nets lost to the Bucks. Just as it was before the night started, the Pistons lead the pack of East playoff wannabees.