New lineup gives Pistons control of space

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Pistons' Reggie Bullock makes a pass over Celtics' Daniel Theis in the first quarter. Bullock had 15 points and 3 rebounds. The Pistons defeated the Celtics 113-104, Saturday, December 15, 2018 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan.

Detroit — With a new starting lineup that included Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock, the Pistons have something that they haven’t gotten much of in recent weeks.

Not just wins, but spacing.

Having two above-average 3-point shooters kept the Boston’s defense honest on the perimeter and opened some passing lanes and cutting lanes inside. It was a different dynamic, as the Pistons ended their six-game losing streak with a different-looking first half on the offensive end.

It began with the first unit, which got into a rhythm hitting outside shots, which made everything else easier. Besides the openings for Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin inside, coach Dwane Casey said the shooters’ presence created more opportunities for each other.  

“Both of them, in the fact that they click off each other. If you just have one guy out there, he gets more attention. It helps Blake, helps his spacing, helps Andre’s rolling to the basket and just our overall spacing because they have to respect it,” Casey said.  

“Reggie is a proven scorer in our league and he draws that attention. He’s a sneaky runner and cutter, so people have to respect that and pay attention to him and not just hone in on Blake.”

Drummond was able to maneuver inside and when the Celtics double-teamed Griffin, he had two options around the 3-point line. If Bullock decides to cut in that lineup, the options expand even further.

It’s a good problem to have, especially for a team that has had its share of slow starts in games, especially from around the arc. With arguably their best two wing scorers on the court at the same time, the Pistons have a better chance to stay close in the first period, rather than trying to climb out of a hole, as they’ve done numerous times this season.

The new look provides a different dynamic, allowing the two bigs more space to operate and be able to have more viable options.

“It’s the yin and yang; all of it works together. Once we start shooting the ball better, it’s going to help everybody,” Casey said. “Teams in this league respect shooting and spacing and when you have a dynamic player inside who has the ability to score, it’ll work itself out.”

So far, it’s a small sample size with the two wings playing together; now that they’re both healthy, the Pistons can stick with that starting group for an extended period, allowing the second unit to be more of a running group and play at a faster pace when Ish Smith returns from injury.

Jose Calderon has made his mark by helping that group while Smith — who still is a couple weeks from returning — recuperates from his torn adductor.

Lessons learned

The schedule has been somewhat easy for the Pistons so far this season, but one oddity is having played several teams several times already. They play teams in the East three or four times and Western teams twice.

Already, they’ve faced the Sixers all four times and faced the Celtics three times. Monday’s game with the Bucks was the second meeting and they’ll play again on New Year’s Day. The constricted nature of the schedule makes it somewhat easier to prepare for teams, as players are familiar with the scouting reports.

It also keeps the bad defeats close to mind, as was the Bucks’ 23-point victory on Dec. 5 in Milwaukee. That memory still lingers for Casey.

“Playing Milwaukee a few weeks ago and them spanking us the way they did should sting a little bit; it should be in our memory bank,” Casey said. “It has been on my mind and I have brought it up a few times today and the fact that this team had their way with us.

“That is one thing that you have to respect about the NBA: if you have anything about you, you’re going to bounce back and fight. So we’ll see how we respond to how we played in Milwaukee against the same team.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard