Pistons start new year with blowout loss to Bucks
Milwaukee — The Pistons didn’t have an answer for the Bucks big man, who went for 25 points and had his way on the offensive end.
No, not Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Try 7-foot center Brook Lopez.
It didn’t seem to matter who was taking the shots for the Bucks, because most of them were going in. The Bucks thrashed the Pistons, 121-98, on Tuesday night at Fiserv Forum, their second 23-point win in three meetings this season.
It’s another lopsided loss — the second in the last three games — as the reeling Pistons (16-19) fell to three games below .500 for the first time this season.
Lopez connected on seven 3-pointers for the second straight game — the first center in NBA history to complete the feat — and Antetokounmpo finished with a pedestrian 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Bucks (26-10), who have the best record in the NBA.
The bigger concern was the Pistons’ defense, which folded in the first quarter for the second time against the Bucks this season. Milwaukee shot 70 percent from the field in the first half, 60 percent for the game and all five starters made at least half their shots.
“It says how much work we have to do. Sometimes you let a team see a couple of feel-good shots go in and that gets them going. That’s where we are,” coach Dwane Casey said. “That team is a very good team; they’re one of the top teams in our league.
“There’s another level we can get to. Shooting the ball or whatever it is, there’s another competitive level we can get to. We’re going to get there. We’re going to find seven, eight or nine guys who are going to do it and we’re going to keep working at it. We’ve got some guys who are laying it on the line, but not enough.”
The Pistons get a quick turnaround, with a back-to-back at the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
Blake Griffin had 29 points, nine rebounds and four assists, Reggie Jackson had 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting and three assists, and Andre Drummond added 15 points and seven rebounds.
The Bucks made it academic in the first half, building a 68-52 lead at halftime and stretching to 20 points midway through the third quarter. Their 9-2 spurt, with a jumper and two free throws by Khris Middleton (22 points) made it an 83-61 lead at the 7:07 mark of the third.
“They came out with a good energy. They were really sharing the ball and hitting threes,” forward Jon Leuer said. “We just didn’t do a good job defensively. I think offensively, we did some things okay, but defensively we just had to do a better job.”
Middleton followed his spurt with a three-point play and Drummond answered with a pair of three-point plays on back-to-back possessions. George Hill hit a reverse lay-in and Luke Kennard made a 3-pointer to pull the Pistons within 17, but the Bucks didn’t relent, pushing the lead to 28 in the fourth quarter.
1. Stanley Johnson (lower leg contusion) was a late scratch and didn’t play in the game, which is a significant change. In the last meeting, Johnson played 25 minutes and had a big assignment in helping guard Antetokounmpo. That responsibility fell to Leuer, who looked to be overmatched — as most forwards in the league are.
2. Jackson looked composed and efficient in the first half, going 6-for-8 from the field for 15 points. He hit a pair of 3-pointers and stayed within the offense, adding three assists. Jackson had been fading in his usage, but he found a niche again, playing more off the ball. Defensively, he was much the same as the last meeting, as the Bucks had easy lanes around him to the basket.
3. Rookie guard Khyri Thomas (13 points) got some quality playing time in the first half, with four minutes in the backcourt. Casey said he wanted to see more of the rookie and with Jose Calderon struggling to guard the Bucks’ backcourt, Thomas was the next option. He went 3-of-6 from the field and hit a 3-pointer, along with 6-of-7 on free throws. With Ish Smith still out for another week or so, Thomas may get more looks to see what he might be able to contribute as the season continues.
4. Zaza Pachulia was held out of the game because of a right lower-leg contusion. Pachulia didn’t play in the previous meeting, which the Bucks won by three. Pachulia proved valuable in the last couple of games, especially in pick-and-roll situations, so the Pistons had to utilize other actions and spread those minutes to Griffin and Drummond.
5. In the three meetings against the Bucks this season, the Pistons have been beaten handily in two — the same two that Antetokounmpo had mediocre games. In their three-point win over the Pistons, he had 32 points, 12 rebounds and five assists but the other Bucks chipped in, as they did Tuesday night.