Milwaukee — It’s never easy for the Pistons, as they began the second half of their season in the same manner in which they played the first 41 games.
In other words, their 104-101 loss to the worst team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks, a team missing two key rotation players, shouldn’t even make the casual observer blink.
The Bucks fouled Josh Smith before the Pistons were able to attempt a game-tying 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left, and Smith, who was struggling all evening, missed two free throws before they were awarded possession with 1.4 seconds remaining.
Rodney Stuckey’s corner triple hit the side of the backboard as time expired, as the Pistons (17-25) handed a team that lost nine straight its first win of 2014 — consequently adding to their own growing list of puzzling losses—in another disappointing manner.
A 13-point lead in the third quarter led to some inexplicable coasting — which teams like the Miami Heat can do, but this Pistons team hasn’t won enough to take any team lightly.
“I think so. I think we got a little comfortable,” said Brandon Jennings, who scored 30 in his second trip back to Milwaukee, the town where he spent his first four NBA seasons. “But it can’t happen. At the end of the day, that’s still an NBA team over there.”
The team defined by its inconsistency performed to its reputation, allowing a hard-playing Bucks team to stay within striking distance despite strong starts from Jennings and Greg Monroe, who were invisible in Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
It didn’t matter because when it mattered most, the Pistons’ fourth quarter woes returned once again, as they mustered just 16 points in the final period after scoring 85 through the first three.
Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks kept referencing back-to-back triples from Bucks reserve Caron Butler to close out the third quarter that cut a 10-point lead to four, but if a team is this susceptible to momentum loss with a full quarter remaining, it’s fair to question overall mental toughness.
“We’re not good enough a team to look at somebody’s record to look past them,” Smith said. “We have to focus on important details and situations.”
Details like loose balls the Bucks routinely got to when the Pistons were a step slow down the stretch, as they realized the Bucks weren’t disappearing into the cold Wisconsin night.
“I think the 50-50 balls were the difference,” said Cheeks, who said “50-50 balls” at least six times in a three-minute span. “If you have a discrepancy in that many balls, you’ll probably lose that game.”
Jennings, who had 28 points in first three quarters, but missed all four of his shots in the fourth, while the player he was traded for, Brandon Knight, hit a big jumper with 1:38 remaining to give the Bucks a three-point lead.
Jennings often quieted his hometown crowd early in the game with timely triples but the Pistons again collapsed down the stretch, often looking lifeless and without much direction.
Monroe had 18 points and nine rebounds but was outworked on the defensive end by Bucks bruising reserve center Miroslav Raduljica.