Auburn Hills — The Milwaukee Bucks made it clear in the first few minutes that they weren’t playing around. On their first basket, they pulled Giannis Antetokounmpo out to the 3-point line and ran a lob play for Brook Lopez, on a nice pass from Khris Middleton.
Antetokounmpo got two free-throw attempts on a drive after being fouled by Thon Maker. He drew a second foul on Maker and converted a three-point play. Lopez hit a 3-pointer and then Antetokounmpo added another three-point play.
Eleven points in just over two minutes. Twenty-five points in less than six minutes, on the road to 38 first-quarter points in 12 minutes of precision and force.
After their slow start, the Pistons trailed by 20 points — and it got worse from there.
“We have to come out with an upset, mad-at-the-world disposition. We were excited to be in the playoffs and they had the mentality of coming out and taking care of business,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We have to change that thought process to one of aggression, toughness, hard play on both ends of the floor.
“That’s where all the schemes and X’s and O’s start. You can’t wait to get down, 20-6, to start having that mentality.”
The Bucks launched the opening salvo and the Pistons didn’t have an immediate answer for it. Without Blake Griffin, they already were limited, but Andre Drummond had all their points in the first four minutes and Wayne Ellington’s basket at the 7:02 mark was Detroit's only non-Drummond basket in the first six minutes of the game.
That’s a problem.
“We weren’t prepared for their force and their energy early on in the game. We allowed them to get going from the beginning. Six easy, quick points turned into a 20-point lead, so we can’t allow them to get going early; we have to play with force from the beginning,” Drummond said Monday. “They were just a step ahead of us on every possession. It shouldn’t be like that; we are capable of playing this team and beating this team as well.
“We got the first-game jitters out and everybody got that first feeling out. Now it’s time to buckle down and really play these guys and defend them.”
How the Pistons come out in Game 2 on Wednesday could be an indicator of how much longer the best-of-seven series will last. The Bucks dealt their best shot and the Pistons were left in their wake, with a 27-point deficit going into halftime.
That didn’t sit well with Casey and the players but they’ll have to show it on the court — with or without Griffin — and try to turn things around.
“How do we respond? Do we come out and respond the same way with the same approach we did last night or do we come out and scrap and claw and make the right decisions offensively, screen better, get back in transition better?” Casey said. “They’re going to come out and play the same way. They’re a great team with a super-great player in the middle. How do we respond to that?
“Do we put our tails between our legs and call it a day or say this is what’s supposed to happen or have a disposition and approach that is healthy and clean and hard?”
It’s a multipronged question but the slow starts have been one of the Pistons’ bugaboos this season, as they’ve fallen into big first-quarter deficits and had to climb back to try to pull out a game in the final minutes.
That’s not a sound strategy against the Bucks, who showed they’re ready to prove their 60-win regular season wasn’t a fluke and they’re ready to take the next step to being one of the elite teams — not only in the Eastern Conference but in the entire league.
One of the secondary story lines in Game 1 was Drummond’s flagrant-2 foul on Antetokounmpo, which led to Drummond’s ejection and some concern that there could be further punishment.
Casey said Monday that he didn’t anticipate any other action by the league on the call in question and that the Pistons would continue to be physical — within reason — in the series.
“I’ve seen worse (fouls). With Andre, what do you expect a defense to do when you’re driving through there at 100 mph — just move out of the way and let you go where you want to go?” Casey said. “I don’t think there’s a defense in the world that’s just going to let you do that. Any team I’ve ever coached has made you make a decision. Somebody has to hit the floor — either you take the charge or (foul the shooter).
“You can’t let anybody drive from the top of the key to the rim untouched. Not dirty — I’m not promoting dirty.”
Pistons vs. Bucks
Game 1: Bucks 121, Pistons 86
Game 2: Pistons at Bucks, Wednesday, 8 p.m. (FSD, 950 AM)
Game 3: Bucks at Pistons, Saturday, 8 p.m. (FSD, 97.1 FM)
Game 4: Bucks at Pistons, April 22, 8 p.m. (FSD, 950 AM)
*Game 5: Pistons at Bucks, April 24
*Game 6: Bucks at Pistons, April 26
*Game 7: Pistons at Bucks, April 28
* - if necessary