Auburn Hills — The lopsided loss in Game 1 sent a clear message to the Pistons: Play better, or it’s going to be an embarrassing and long first-round playoff series.
Giannis Antetokounmpo played at an All-Star level. Brook Lopez hit from the outside. Even the Bucks’ reserve players, including Pat Connaughton and George Hill, had an immediate impact on the game.
The cliché is that the biggest adjustments occur between Games 1 and 2, so the Pistons and coach Dwane Casey have their work cut out for themselves in trying to make the second game — and the remainder of the series — more competitive.
Here are five potential tweaks the Pistons can make in Game 2 on Wednesday:
1. Start Luke Kennard
If Blake Griffin is unable to play, the Pistons could look to make another change in the starting lineup, by inserting another ball-handler and facilitator. Defenses are sagging off of Bruce Brown and daring him to shoot from outside, though he’s found some gaps and has begun driving to the basket more.
The Pistons covet Brown’s defense on the opposing team’s best perimeter player, but Kennard provides an upgrade on the offensive end. It’s one thing to say the Pistons have to start the game better than their 38-18 deficit after the first quarter. Kennard, who had 21 points in the opener, was the Pistons’ best offensive player in Game 1.
“Luke did an excellent job offensively,” Casey said. “He was probably the most aggressive offensively of everybody and making the right basketball play.”
With the switch, there would be some concern about who becomes the primary scorer in the second group, but that’s a secondary concern. If they don’t get some offense going in the first few minutes, there might not be a remainder of the game to play for.
2. Mix coverages on Giannis
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said after Game 1 that teams have tried many different schemes to try to guard Antetokounmpo. The Pistons didn’t have much success with Thon Maker guarding Antetokounmpo early in the first quarter, but they looked to be more effective when Andre Drummond was defending him.
“I made the call during the timeout and tried to get Thon off him because he got two quick fouls. I guarded him for the remainder of the game,” Drummond said. “I watched that kid from the moment he was drafted, so I know his game like the back of my hand.
“Playing him as many times as I have to, I know what he’s going to do. I’m going to try to play him the best I can and keep him out of the paint.”
The risk, of course, is getting Drummond in early foul trouble, which could limit his playing time, but it’s worth a look for some stretches of the game.
3. Play more zone defense
They mixed in some zone defenses in Game 1 and had mixed results with it. The Pistons haven’t played heavy zone in the regular season, so switching at this point in the season isn’t ideal, but given how the Bucks were able to score so easily, something has to change. Even in their zone setups, the Pistons had some gaps in the seams, which would have allowed more dribble-penetration.
4. Utilizing Jackson more
Although the Pistons struggled on offense, they did get some opportunities for Reggie Jackson in the paint. When he runs pick-and-roll with Drummond, he has to make the Bucks big man commit to the ball, when he can pass the ball to Drummond. If the center doesn’t, then Jackson has a short-range floater — one of the strengths of his offensive game — that he can go to. Jackson looked to be probing in the second and third quarters to determine how the Bucks were going to play his drives and may have found something that they can go back to.
5. Get back in transition
The Bucks seemed to be playing at a much faster pace, whether they were attacking off turnovers or simply off missed shots. In both cases, the Pistons weren’t getting back on defense, which made for some easy baskets. That’s a question of hustle and mental fortitude and sticking to the game plan.
“(Sunday) was great for Milwaukee and we knew they were going to come out with that type of fire and brimstone,” Casey said. “We didn’t come out with near the approach you have to have to beat a great team like that. That was the key thing (in practice), along with the adjustments we had to make and how we were doing that.
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, Monday, 8 p.m. (FSD, 950 AM)
*Game 5: Pistons at Bucks, Wednesday, April 24
*Game 6: Bucks at Pistons, Friday, April 26
*Game 7: Pistons at Bucks, Sunday, April 28
* - if necessary