Better, but what's next? Rod Beard's five takeaways from Pistons' Game 2 loss

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Guard Luke Kennard (5) scored 21 off the bench to lead the Pistons in Game 1 against the Bucks.

Milwaukee — At the end of the day, it’s still a loss.

The Pistons’ 120-99 defeat at the hands of the Bucks on Wednesday in the first-round Eastern Conference series didn’t have the same feel as the bludgeoning that they got in the opener.

In fact, there were some relative positives to take away and to implement in the days leading to Game 3 on Saturday at Little Caesars Arena.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Pistons’ loss in Game 2.

Luke Kennard is for real

He’s averaging 20 points in the first two games and in many ways, he has been the Pistons’ best offensive player. With Blake Griffin out of the lineup again, Kennard got his first career playoff start and posted 14 points in the first half, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. If there’s one positive revelation from this playoff appearance, it’s that Kennard appears ready for the bright lights and the postseason stage.

“He was a big part of that first-half thrust that they put out there. Certainly, give credit to Luke; he played well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

“Kennard made a lot of shots, and Reggie Jackson made a lot of shots and reads. They played well.”

They miss Blake Griffin

There’s no real rocket science there but when they played so well in the second quarter and had an opportunity to stay in the game, they didn’t have their go-to player to help them grab the lead and possibly extend it. It’s still unclear whether he might play in the series at all, but he did some light basketball work in Wednesday’s shootaround and has said he wants to play, but the decision is in the hands of the medical staff.

The Pistons already had a tall task ahead of them in trying to stop the top-seeded Bucks but without Griffin, it’s that much tougher. It looks like they team will continue to prepare as if he can play possibly in Games 3 or 4 but with the heavy brace he wore early Wednesday.

The reserves have to be better

The second unit shot 11-of-36 (31 percent) from the field and 5-of-16 on 3-pointers. That not terrible, but they’re going to have to carry the load when they’re on the court. Some of the second-quarter rally happened with Bruce Brown — who moved to the second group from the starting lineup — and bringing defensive intensity to that unit. Glenn Robinson III was 3-of-10, including 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. If those shots fall, the Pistons may not have won, but it would have been closer.

Pat Connaughton has provided a huge boost, with 18 points in Game 2 and a lot of energy in the opener. Besides Connaughton, the Bucks had just nine points from their reserves.

“I’m proud of Pat. That was impressive,” Brook Lopez said. “He was just everywhere tonight and brought so much energy to the game. It was great to see.”

Defense still is a problem

That’s not as much about the Pistons doing things poorly as the Bucks just being a very formidable matchup for them — as the Bucks will be for almost any other team in the playoffs. Of all the potential first-round opponents. Milwaukee’s lineup was probably the toughest — and it’s showing. Andre Drummond has switched over to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, which hasn’t been a terrible adjustment, but that leaves a mismatch on Brook Lopez, who had just eight points in Game 2.

More: Pistons' Thon Maker rattled by Game 1 play and Bucks fans' reception

There is likely to be a mismatch somewhere and the Pistons haven’t done enough work on their zone defense to lean on it more heavily. Even still, they’re giving something up when they try to go zone, because the Bucks can space out a defense so much, then penetrate in those gaps.

'Dre a plus or a minus?

There’s been a lot of talk about Drummond’s plus-minus numbers in the first two games. He was minus-45 in the opener and minus-32 in Game 2.

For those who delve into the advanced stats, there are better indicators of a player’s value, but plus-minus alone isn’t the best one to gauge a player’s impact. The Pistons lost by 21 points and Drummond played 37 of 48 minutes against the Bucks’ best players.

Simple math says that he’s going to have a lot of those minus points simply because he played heavily. By comparison, Langston Galloway played 31 minutes and had a minus-9. Does that mean Galloway played better? Not necessarily. There’s more to break down and the eye test says Drummond had a decent game, but not as atrociously as a minus-32 would suggest.

Pistons vs. Bucks

Game 1: Bucks 121, Pistons 86

Game 2: Bucks 120, Pistons 99 

Game 3: Bucks at Pistons, 8 Saturday (FSD/97.1)

Game 4: Bucks at Pistons, 8 Monday (FSD/950)

*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

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard