San Antonio — Avery Bradley chased Tony Parker around. He stalked Patty Mills’ dribble. He tried to shoot the gaps on passing lanes and get a steal on a drive to the basket.
It was the least he could do in Monday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, because he wasn’t able to get much done on the offensive end. Bradley managed three points, on just 1-of-9 shooting, in the Pistons’ 96-93 loss.
There wasn’t much different about Bradley’s approach; the shots just weren’t falling. He’s mired in a mini-slump over the past three games, notching just 7.3 points and hitting just 27 percent on field goals (9-of-33) and 1-of-13 on 3-pointers.
That’s a significant drop from his previous 12 games, when he posted 18.3 points, hitting 47-percent from the field and from beyond the arc.
“I’ve been shooting bad the last three games. I think I just have to pick my spots better and try to get in a better rhythm,” Bradley said. “Right now, it’s kind of hard. I’m just not making any shots right now.”
The shot selection hasn’t been bad. Bradley is just missing them worse, from the moment the shots leave his hands. Coach Stan Van Gundy cited fatigue as a possible issue — Monday was their third game in four nights — and defending against some premier offensive players takes some of the strength from Bradley’s offensive game.
It’s a bit more taxing for Bradley, who’s regarded as a lockdown perimeter defender to try to carry that energy level over to both ends of the court. With eight of the previous 10 games on the road, it’s a little more taxing.
“He’s felt a little tired, so that’s what we need to talk about — how to get over that,” Van Gundy said. “If you look at this stretch, we’ve put him on some really good people and he’s done a really good job.
“He had about as good a defensive (few) games as you can have, going from (Russell) Westbrook to Kyrie Irving and then Brad Beal and chase around J.J. Redick and (Devin) Booker, forcing all those guys into turnovers. That’s had a lot to do with it too.”
Though Bradley has had his best offensive year of his career, it’s frustrating to go through a bit of a slump that coincides with the Pistons’ season-long three-game losing skid. He’s veteran enough to know that it’s just part of the ebbs and flows of the game, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.
“I don’t know the last time I had three points in a game and went 1-for-9. I guess it’s just one of those ones you have to chalk up to the game and get into the gym and get some shots up,” Bradley said. “I know it’s going to turn back around. I’ve been playing this game for a while.
“You go through these funks where you have to continue to stay in the gym; you can’t get down on yourself, and just make shots — that’s what I do.”
Some of the slide could be teams getting accustomed to seeing Bradley in dribble-handoffs situations, which was a new wrinkle to the offense early in the season, but through 23 games, it’s an adjustment they’re making.
The Pistons, in turn, have to turn to other options out of the offensive sets, reads that each player must make in assessing the defense, and finding the best matchup.
Point guard Reggie Jackson is doing what he can to try to help Bradley get better looks at the basket as well, when he has that opportunity. Whether it’s on a fast break or in finding the open man in half-court sets, Jackson tries to take care of his backcourt mate if he can.
“If I can get anything going in transition or an easy flip or attack (I’ll try). When I realize my guys are in a slump, I’m just trying to get them the ball in an easy situation so they can get an easy layup and feel good about themselves,” Jackson said, “especially Avery, because he does so much for us defensively.
“His legs aren’t there sometimes probably on the offensive end when he’s taking shots. Guys wonder why he’s missing flat — it’s because he does so much for us on the defensive end. My job is to make it easy for everybody on offense.”