There was little to nitpick about the Pistons performance against Portland save for the last minute or so of the game.
John Kuester over-coached. The Pistons played bad defense on two straight possessions. Austin Daye forced a three when it wasn’t necessary. Charlie Villanueva made an atrocious inbounds pass on a very well-designed play by Kuester. And Portland sealed things at the line.
The problems started with :54 seconds left and the Pistons down one when Kuester made a defensive substitution, inserting Rodney Stuckey for Will Bynum. Ordinarily, this is a sound decision. Stuckey is a far superior defender. The problem? Bynum played as well defensively guarding Andre Miller as I’ve ever seen him play. He had four steals, using quick hands to knock the ball away from Miller. His frenetic style forced the methodical Miller to play faster than he likes to, and Miller’s passes in the fourth quarter weren’t as crisp as is typical for him.
I’m apparently not the only one who thought it was illogical to take Bynum out. Check out this Tweet from Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News:
Stuckey comes in for Will Bynum…asst coach Walker: “You can’t take Will out the game!”
The defensive substitution didn’t work. Stuckey played Miller tight, but also allowed him to sit and run some clock. Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge ran a pick and pop play, Stuckey didn’t switch on the screen. Daye didn’t rotate quick enough and Aldridge, who shot 12-for-17 in the game, easily nailed an 18-footer from the elbow. How the Pistons were not ready for Portland to go to Aldridge, who had 36 on the night, I don’t know. It wasn’t just that the rotations were late. It looked as if the Pistons were totally caught off guard by a play that Portland runs all the time.
On the Pistons next possession, down three with about :36 seconds left, the team seemed determined to look for a three and nothing else. Ben Gordon used about three pump fakes and looked desperate to try and get one off, but couldn’t and passed to Daye. Daye did the same thing as Gordon, trying to shake his defender, who stayed put, yet Daye still launched a fading 3-pointer that didn’t even catch iron. Missing a three in that instance essentially ended the game. The Pistons had plenty of time to get a two then foul and extend the game. In Kuester’s defense, he said in the postgame presser that the play was to go for two, so that was improvisation on the part of Daye and Gordon.
Portland went up five on free throws and after a timeout, Kuester drew up a really nice play. Portland seemed to be expecting a three, and Detroit’s play had Monroe slip a screen and he headed to the basket with no Blazer within six feet of him. Then Villanueva sailed a pass way over his head that went out of bounds.
The poor final minute undid a lot of good things that the Pistons did throughout the game. They bothered the notoriously steady Miller the entire game. They did a nice job on Rudy Fernandez, who had been playing really well for Portland lately, and they also held Nic Batum to a poor shooting night. Portland was essentially alternating between Aldridge and Wes Matthews, who had 26 points, for offense, and both of those guys had an easy go of it against Detroit’s defenders. But letting those two have big nights and playing well against the rest of the Blazers lineup should’ve been enough to win this game.