The Monday Drive: Pistons undaunted by national stage

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Reggie Jackson, left, is still the player the Pistons will count on to make plays down the stretch and finish off games.

Auburn Hills — In the aftermath of the Game 1 playoff loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pistons are likely to have a range of emotions.

They played one of the best offensive first halves of the season.

They didn’t have an inside-outside game like Kevin Love’s.

They got an above-average scoring day from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson.

They didn’t play a good final five minutes.

The bottom line is that it counts as a loss and they trail the top-seeded Cavs in the series.

While they’ll look to coach Stan Van Gundy to come up with some tweaks in the game plan, they’ll look to repeat the shooting effort from the opener, hitting 10 3-pointers in the first half and leading after the second and third quarters.

Now, it’s just about finishing the deal.

The Monday Drive gears up for the grueling Game 2 in Cleveland on Wednesday, where the Pistons look to build some momentum before returning to The Palace for Game 3 and 4.

Here are this week’s 10 Pistons playoff thoughts and observations:

1. The big stage didn’t scare the Pistons. In Game 1, they were undaunted by all they faced: the top-seeded Cavs, the national stage, playing on the road. The first half showed that they were tuned in to the game plan and executed on all cylinders. That they lost the game isn’t the biggest takeaway. Rather, they didn’t bow down to the Cavs or let them run away with the win early, as most of the other lower-seeded teams did in the playoffs.

2. Rookie Stanley Johnson is going to be good — really good. He didn’t back down from the challenge of trying to guard LeBron James, or anyone else, in his first playoff appearance. Hitting a trio of 3-pointers didn’t hurt either, but when his veteran savvy catches up with his confidence, he’ll live up to the billing that made the Pistons take him instead of the likes of Justise Winslow and Devin Booker.

3. Andre Drummond is going to have to make a mark in the series. If the Pistons are going to have a shot, they’ll need Drummond to stand out, rather than blend in. He struggled in the first half as the Cavs locked down on the pick-and-roll, and when things loosened up in the third quarter, he got loose. He wasn’t a free-throw liability, splitting his only two attempts, but he’ll have to be more of a rebounding asset.

4. The bench will be an advantage for the Pistons. The critical part will be for the Pistons starters to match the Cavs starters. Detroit doesn’t have a Big Three but limiting their production and forcing some of the other complementary players to contribute will be a bigger key for the Pistons. There’s still a possibility for Jodie Meeks or Anthony Tolliver to play a larger reserve role as well.

5. There’s no need to cry about fouls. It’s the playoffs — that’s kind of the way this thing works. Stars are going to get calls. The whistles go silent in the last few minutes of the game. Reggie Jackson took an unnecessary technical foul for arguing a non-call. Van Gundy made his point during a TV interview. Nothing else needs be said about James and referee favoritism.

6. The Pistons have the No. 18 pick in the draft. After a tiebreaker draw, the Pistons will be far away from the lottery with their first-round choice in the June 23 draft. Although the thought is that the Pistons would look at potentially trading the pick or packaging it as part of a deal to get more veteran depth. It could be an option, depending on the picks who might be around — including Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine.

7. Reggie Jackson still is the finisher. He might not come through in every instance, but Jackson still is finding his way — and this playoff series will do a world of difference for his decision-making in tight situations. He already was good, but will benefit from a few more games of seasoning this year. It takes a while to have the right chemistry with the shooters and Drummond but it’s just not fully there yet.

8. How bad was the rest of the first weekend of playoff basketball? Of the seven other series, five first-round games, including lopsided wins of 20 points or more. The only upset in a Game 1 was the Indiana Pacers winning at Toronto. The Pistons were close, but couldn’t pull off the win in Cleveland. The series in the West seem to be mismatches across the board.

9. Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard won defensive player of the year. He won for the second straight season, edging out Golden State’s Draymond Green. It’s a well-deserved honor for Leonard, who is one of the best defensive matchups in the league this season. The jump in his offensive game this season matches what he’s done since winning NBA Finals MVP two years ago.

10. The rest of the postseason awards will be announced in the coming weeks. There won’t be many surprises, with the Warriors’ Steph Curry likely repeating as MVP. The Pistons probably won’t have any award winners, but Johnson could be selected to one of the all-rookie teams and Drummond could draw consideration as an All-NBA selection. A surprise choice would be Drummond or Jackson as most improved.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard