Can the Detroit Pistons finally win a playoff game in 2021?

Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The last time the Detroit Pistons won a playoff game, George W. Bush was the president. In their last 14 NBA playoff games, they are 0-14. We have five reasons to think this might be the year that losing streak is finally broken.

It has been 12 NBA seasons since the Detroit Pistons won a playoff game. The date was May 26, 2008 and game four of  the Eastern Conference Finals. 

The Pistons rolled out a starting lineup of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Antonio McDyess, Tayshaun Prince, and Rasheed Wallace that defeated the Kevin Garnett-led Boston Celtics 94-75 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, knotting the series at two games apiece.

Two nights later, Boston returned the favor by edging Detroit 106-102. The  Celtics closed out the series with an 89-81 win at The Palace. Boston kept on a roll in the NBA finals, where they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4-2.

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Since that win over Detroit, the Celtics have appeared in 167 playoff games, winning 90.

Conversely, after that loss, the Pistons plunged head-first into a dizzying playoff tailspin from which they have yet to recover. They were swept twice by the Cleveland Cavaliers (2009, 2016) and once by Milwaukee (2019).

They have lost 14 consecutive playoff games, the longest postseason losing streak in NBA history.

Will 2021 be the year the Pistons end their playoff losing streak?

Will coach Dwane Casey and company find a way to right the postseason ship and return this once proud franchise to respectability?

In the competitive world of the NBA there are no guarantees, but here are five good, if not compelling reasons 2021 could finally be the year:

1. A healthy Blake Griffin

When coach/team president Stan Van Gundy traded for Blake Griffin, Pistons fans were ecstatic, especially so after Griffin dropped a career-best 50 on the Philadelphia 76ers in his 28th game.

But he was injured late in the 2018-19 season. He courageously hobbled through his only playoff appearance so far with Motown, a round one sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Due to injury, he appeared in only 18 games during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. Griffin has now had nearly a year to rehab and return to his rim-rattling self for this season. His return would provide the Pistons a dose of star power and perhaps a modicum of postseason success.

2. A motivated Derrick Rose

In the final year of his contract, Derrick Rose will earn approximately $7.7 million and become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. He’ll be 32 by then, which is long in the tooth by NBA standards, but he’ll have an opportunity during the season to showcase his game to GMs throughout the league. A healthy, motivated Rose should be able to log 20-25 minutes per game in 20-21 and is capable of single-handedly willing the Pistons to a playoff win or two.

3. Sekou Doumbouya’s upside

Barely 20 years old, Sekou Doumbouya has shown glimpses of the star he could eventually become. In his rookie campaign the Senegalese small forward from France averaged a modest 6.4 points and 3.1 rebounds in 38 appearances, but exploded for 24 points in a January contest versus Boston, nailing two of five from beyond the arc. A small sample size, yes, but by all accounts he has worked on his body and his game in the extended offseason and should be much improved.

4. Coach Dwane Casey

In 11 NBA seasons,  Dwane Casey has a career winning percentage of .524. His postseason numbers aren’t as impressive (.382), which is why he was let go in Toronto, but he has competed in a tough Eastern Conference dominated by super-teams assembled in Miami and Boston.

Much has been written about his inability to defeat Lebron James while at the helm in Toronto. If those concerns are legit, come playoff time he can find some comfort in the fact that King James has taken his considerable talents out West.

Whether Casey is a championship- caliber coach is still to be determined, but he is certainly capable of winning a playoff game.

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5. It’s about time

There is a popular adage in sports that suggests “the longer a streak continues, the closer it is to ending.” With a little luck and a lot of effort, Casey and the Pistons should be able to exorcise their playoff demons and notch at least one playoff win in the not too distant future.