Every game is critically important for the Pistons in their quest to be one of the East’s default playoff teams this season. Tonight’s against Milwaukee, though, was especially winnable. The team is fading in the standings, its top acquisitions are struggling and the team has a penchant for blowing leads.
Tonight was the chance to start strong in a stretch of six straight winnable games against one of the league’s worst teams, the Bucks. Brandon Jennings was returning to his former home arena, the Pistons are a better road team than home team and … did I mention the Bucks are terrible? Maurice Cheeks even shortened his rotation to try to ensure the Pistons got this game, and you know how often Cheeks likes to make adjustments, amiright?
Well, things didn’t play out correctly. The Pistons blew another double-digit second half lead, Jennings ran out of steam late, Josh Smith continued to struggle and the current eight seed in the East is now Charlotte. So the Pistons’ ineptness could allow the Bobcats to sneak into the playoffs and still get a lottery pick out of it.
|Greg Monroe, PF Shot Chart 29 MIN | 7-11 FG | 4-6 FT | 9 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 18 PTS | +13Dan Feldman suggested last week (to a mixed reaction from the peanut gallery) (Updated: Let the record reflect that ‘peanut gallery’ links to a Vince Ellis tweet as a joke. Also, let the record reflect that Vince Ellis is the only beat writer I read) that Maurice Cheeks’ plan to get Josh Smith more comfortable would amount to Cheeks marginalizing either Monroe or Andre Drummond. Tonight, Monroe scored efficiently, hitting 7-for-11 of his shots, rebounded well and passed well. Smith shot inefficeintly, rebounded poorly and turned it over more than Monroe. Smith played 34 minutes, Monroe played 29. Consider yourself marginalized, Mr. Monroe.|
|Josh Smith, SF Shot Chart 34 MIN | 2-10 FG | 4-8 FT | 6 REB | 6 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | +8Before I pile on Smith, I would like to praise how much I enjoyed his passing in this game. Between Monroe and Smith, the Pistons have two of the best frontcourt passers in the league. Monroe had an entry pass to Drummond in the third quarter that led to a layup that was beautiful — it was a difficult angled bounce pass that Smith kept just low enough and had just the right spin on to get past defenders and perfectly lead Drummond to the hoop.But seriously, Smith was bad tonight. He missed two late free throws that would’ve cut the Bucks’ lead to one, he had a late turnover when the Pistons could’ve tied and he was one of the many defenders who had nothing for Caron Butler tonight.|
|Andre Drummond, C Shot Chart 33 MIN | 4-7 FG | 3-4 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | -2Drummond was his normal efficient self. Replay helped eliminate an incorrect goaltend call against him on a Brandon Knight shot, and officials missing a pretty obvious goaltend call against him on another Knight shot in the third credited him for a block he probably didn’t deserve. The lesson here is it is hilarious watching Brandon Knight get his weak shots blocked. Also, a predictable refrain for Drummond — he looked gassed in the fourth quarter. But hey, look at that free throw shooting!|
|Brandon Jennings, PG Shot Chart 37 MIN | 11-23 FG | 5-6 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 30 PTS | +4Jennings shot beautifully for most of this game in front of his former hometown crowd, but ran out of steam late. He missed all four shots he took in the fourth quarter. He got lost defensively on a couple of late shots by Milwaukee’s guards. But overall, Jennings’ scoring early was a big reason the Pistons built a double-digit lead.|
|Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG Shot Chart 44 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +5Caldwell-Pope had a nice all-around game, but every wing player who stepped on the court is responsible for Caron Butler playing like it was 2006 tonight, so his grade is going to suffer for that.|
|Kyle Singler, SF Shot Chart 19 MIN | 0-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -20Singler shot poorly, which he does occasionally. The difference is he usually helps out in other areas even if his shot isn’t falling. Tonight, he didn’t do anything of value in the game.|
|Will Bynum, PG Shot Chart 11 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -7Bynum played very few minutes and came up with a couple of steals, but also turned it over twice in 11 minutes. Not great.|
|Rodney Stuckey, SG Shot Chart 33 MIN | 8-16 FG | 7-8 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 23 PTS | -16The Rodney Stuckey Would Like Another Multi-Year Contract/Make Lawrence Frank Look Like An Idiot Redemption Tour continues with another great performance. Honestly, as critical as I’ve been of Stuckey at times, I’d love him on any team I root for … provided it is a one-year contract.|
|Charlie Villanueva, PF Shot Chart DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Charlie Villanueva tweeted Feldman tonight!|
|Maurice Cheeks |
Maurice Cheeks really wanted to win this game tonight. Boy, did he want to win this. He shortened his rotation to eight guys (and really, seven guys because Bynum didn’t play all that much). The Pistons still had a similar result, though. They build a lead with good shooting early. They didn’t get the lead as big as it should’ve been because their hot shooting was combined with uninterested defense that always allowed the Bucks to be a quick run from getting back in it. Then, when the Bucks tightened their defense, the Pistons started missing shots and had no ability to make adjustments (I think they might not make adjustments well because I’m fairly convinced that the don’t have any plays that they know how to run). The offense became, “let a guy dribble around for a while and shoot a contested mid-range shot,” which resulted in a 58.7 (!) (seriously, 58.7!) offensive rating in the fourth quarter. Then, in the postgame interview, Cheeks said “50-50 balls” about 35 times in three minutes.So, to recap, the Pistons lost tonight because they didn’t get to enough 50-50 balls. And that’s the only reason they lost. Also, the game is 48 minutes long, which Cheeks was also kind enough to remind everyone.