Game three here. The emotions running through the Pistons’ veins are either fear or blind hope, there’s not much room for anything inbetween. The former due to the might of their opponent, which has been solidified by back-to-back beatdowns in which Detroit has lost by an average of 28 points. The latter due to a sense of Detroit Pride, a concept Pistons fans have come accustomed to when their team has found themselves with their backs firmly placed against the most concrete of walls.
How will this team respond? And are they in control of their own fate?
Either way, it’s do or die - not asking whether Detroit can claw back and push this series to six or seven games, but can this Pistons team, who fought tooth and nail to earn their trip to the dance, make a singular game competitive or perhaps win a game in the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. Roll out the line-ups and hope for the best.
*When*: April 20, 2019, 8:00 p.m. EST
*Where*: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI
*Watch*: Fox Sports Detroit, ESPN
In this series, the Pistons have played their best brand of basketball when they’ve been able to utilize the Reggie Jackson - Andre Drummond pick and roll, which has mostly lead to Jackson floaters from eight feet or Drummond cleanups on the glass for an easy bucket or trip to the charity stripe (when it’s going well). They’ve also benefited from a smallball lineup highlighted by Luke Kennard as decision maker, with a shoot-first mentality. Kennard has been one of the lone bright spots for Detroit, having averaged 20 points per game while shooting an unsustainable 52% from the floor and 73% from three.
Detroit has also produced bursts of efficient offense when they’ve turned the Bucks over via blocks, steals, and charges drawn, catching Milwaukee off balance, resulting in easy looks at the cup, or in-rhythm threes. Even those looks aren’t sustainable throughout a full 48 minutes.
But coupling these factors alone has clearly not been enough, seeing how Detroit’s best effort in game two equated to a one point half-time lead, a single digit difference in the fourth quarter, and a 21 point loss when it was all said and done. So how do they close the gap? How do they continue to put pressure on the eventual Eastern Conference Champions - Milwaukee Bucks?
It has to start with some semblance of an outside shooting threat in order to warrant any interior advantage Detroit could theoretically utilize in the half-court. Throughout the first two games Wayne Ellington is averaging 27% from three, Jackson 25%, Glenn Robinson 12.5%. Ish Smith 0% (1.5 3PA), Thon Maker 0% (4.5 3PA). And while Langston Galloway has hit 45% from deep, he’s only scored 15 points from three so far in this series. These averages simply won’t cut the mustard against a team as talented and deep as the Bucks.
You can harp on Drummond’s frustration, Casey’s lineups, Griffin’s absence, and the inability of Zaza Pachulia and Jon Leuer to capitalize on the MOST NOTABLE Bucks revenge series (since they’ve both played for Milwaukee in a past life), but unless Detroit is able to help make the deer inbound the ball, there’s no hope that they’ll be able to slow down the freight train that is Giannis Antetokounmpo, or the barrage of three pointers from Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and co.
Maximize mismatches. Jump on the ball. Collect charges. Jump passing lanes. Call for help. Box out. Run. And hit your shots. That’s how you steal a game against the league’s best. And if you can’t do that, you’re staring down the barrel of a 3-0 deficit to a 60 win team.
Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Wayne Ellington, Thon Maker, Andre Drummond
Eric Bledsoe, Sterling Brown, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez