Solid first half isn't enough as Pistons fall to Bucks in Game 2

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Milwaukee — For a while Wednesday, the Bucks fans at Fiserv Forum were quiet, in a bit of disbelief after the Pistons took a one-point lead into halftime. It was in stark contrast with what they saw in Game 1, when the home team breezed to an easy win, with little resistance.

Game 2 was a different game — at least in the first half.

Detroit Pistons' Reggie Jackson yells at an official during the first half of Game 2.

The Pistons showed more fight, more effort — and most importantly, that they had a game plan that could work, even in small spurts. The adjustments that coach Dwane Casey implemented showed spurts of success.

It just wasn’t enough. Again.

BOX SCORE: Bucks 120, Pistons 99

The Bucks turned that deficit around in the third quarter, outscoring the Pistons, 35-17, and rolling to a 120-99 victory in Game 2. The Bucks took a 2-0 series lead as the best-of-seven series shifts to Detroit for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday at Little Caesars Arena.

Blake Griffin, who was a game-time decision but missed the game because of left knee soreness, could return.

Luke Kennard, who got the start over Bruce Brown, had 19 points. Reggie Jackson added 18 points and eight assists and Andre Drummond 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Pistons, who again played without Blake Griffin.

“I thought we set the tone in the second quarter. Against a team like Milwaukee, you have to do it for a longer period of time. We extended it long enough,” Casey said. “It showed in the third quarter. They scored 35 points to our 17. It was our Achilles heel tonight.”

The Pistons put up a better fight than in the opener, trailing by seven after the first quarter and taking a surprising 59-58 lead into halftime. The difference was the third quarter, when Giannis Antetokounmpo, who got his third foul in the second quarter, erupted for 13 of his 26 points and changed the game almost singlehandedly.

He started the third with baskets on three straight possessions, with a lay-in, a 3-pointer and a putback, turning the one-point deficit into a 9-1 run in the first 1:40. After a basket by Drummond, Brook Lopez hit a layin and Antetokounmpo followed with a dunk. That run ballooned into a 22-8 run over the next 6:40, for an 80-67 lead.

“We really didn’t change much of our game plan from the first game to the second game. We paid a little bit more attention to detail, especially getting back, making sure Giannis didn’t have big gaps to drive the ball,” Kennard said. “It was just a thing where we needed to play with more energy, toughness and fight. I thought we did that in the first half.”

The Bucks finished the quarter with a 93-76 lead, but the damage was done, with another big deficit. The Pistons started the fourth with another run, starting with back-to-back 3-pointers by Wayne Ellington and Brown, with a 10-2 spurt, getting within 95-86, but Eric Bledsoe (27 points, six assists) had six straight points to extend the margin back to 15 with 6:47 left.

The Pistons didn’t get within single digits the rest of the way.

The Pistons got going in the second quarter, hitting 57 percent (4-of-7) on 3-pointers and 46 percent (13-of-28) from the field. Beyond that, they buckled down on defense and held the Bucks to just 32 percent from the field, following the stops with makes.

The second-quarter run was 9-1 to start before a vicious dunk by Antetokounmpo that stemmed the tide. The Pistons responded with a jumper from Kennard and a steal and lay-in by Brown, to pull within 41-40 at the 7:41 mark.

Switching the starters was an adjustment that worked well, with Kennard settling in well, picking up his scoring from the 21 points he had in Game 1. Brown looked comfortable with the reserves, sparking the second-quarter defensive effort.

“(The change) set the tone, gave us a little juice and energy. Against this team you have got to score — you have got to score. You cannot think that you can get that many stops and not give yourself a chance to win,” Casey said. “For us to win we have to make sure we do a good job executing the ball and attacking the paint, attacking the paint kick-outs, attacking the paint finishing.

“We got up 36 3s. We had some great looks from 3 and knocked those down. That’s the recipe to give us the chance to beat a team like Milwaukee.”

Pistons vs. Bucks

Game 1: Bucks 121, Pistons 86

Game 2: Bucks 120, Pistons 99 

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