Tobias Harris says the Pistons should have beaten the Bucks. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Milwaukee — It’s no secret that the Milwaukee Bucks are one of the most formidable teams in the league. It was their philosophy in building their current roster through the draft, with 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo, 7-foot reserve Thon Maker and 6-foot-8 Khris Middleton in their frontcourt.
That length is a problem that teams have to game-plan for — and it turned out to be an issue Wednesday for the Pistons, who had trouble running their regular offense, getting to the rim or finishing at the rim.
The Bucks turned up the defense, with 16 blocked shots — the most in the NBA this season and two shy of their franchise record — and 18 forced turnovers. That was enough to dispatch the Pistons, 99-95, at BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The loss ends the Pistons’ five-game winning streak and pushes the Bucks’ streak to four — all since getting Eric Bledsoe in a trade from the Phoenix Suns.
Avery Bradley had a season-high 28 points, including 6-of-10 on 3-pointers, and Andre Drummond added 13 points, 17 rebounds and four assists for the Pistons (10-4), who have split the two games with the Bucks this season.
The defense was the difference for the Bucks, who also held the Pistons to 35-percent shooting from the field. The turnovers and blocks proved too much for the Pistons to overcome.
Rod Beard breaks down the Pistons loss to the Bucks. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
“That’s 34 opportunities that you don’t even get the ball up on the rim. When you look at the stat sheet, it’s really hard to figure out how the game was close and how we got the thing tied,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I give our guys a lot of credit: it’s a team that fights hard. It was a frustrating night and we really didn’t do anything well.
“I couldn’t find any offense to run to help us.”
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy talks about the Pistons loss to the Bucks. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
The Bucks (8-6) led by 13 entering the fourth quarter but they had to hold on in the final minute, after the Pistons scored six straight points to tie it at 93 with 56 seconds remaining. Drummond got a tip-in, Bradley hit a 3-pointer and Drummond split a pair of free throws.
Bledsoe (14 points, six rebounds, eight assists and three steals) hit a jumper with 42.5 seconds left and after Antetokounmpo (21 points) got a steal off Bradley, Bledsoe was fouled and made both free throws, for a four-point margin. Bradley answered with a lay-in to trim the lead in half, but Tony Snell (13 points) made two more free throws with 10.7 seconds left for the final margin.
The Pistons wouldn’t have been that close if not for a furious rally by the reserves, including Ish Smith, rookie Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway and Anthony Tolliver.
“You just have to weather the storm when you’re on the road. I thought Langston and Luke and Tolliver off the bench were huge to get us back in the game,” Smith said. “They knocked down some big shots and before you know it, we looked up and we were tied.”
Kennard scored eight of his 11 points in the final period to keep the Pistons in it, including eight points in a three-minute span. During a 9-2 spurt, Kennard and Tolliver hit back-to-back 3-pointers and after a basket by Snell, Kennard hit another 3-pointer with 4:40 remaining.
That helped offset Middleton, who made tough shots down the stretch and finished with 27 points, six rebounds and eight assists.
It was the Bucks’ length, though, that kept the Pistons’ offense in a flux and made it more difficult to score.
“You contrast their 16 blocks with them being able to make tough shots on the run,” Van Gundy said. “A big part of the difference tonight was their size. Give them credit as a front office: that’s what they’ve tried to build and that was really the deciding factor, their length as compared to ours.”
Galloway got the Pistons off to a good start in the fourth quarter, scoring nine points — off a pair of 3-pointers and three free throws after being fouled — to help close a 13-point deficit to 77-73 in the first two minutes of the period.