Beard: Five lessons learned from Pistons' playoff games
Detroit — If anyone was wondering, Blake Griffin showed what he was all about in Game 3. Unlike his last game, the second-to-last regular-season game against the Grizzlies, Griffin was moving fairly well and was an integral part of the game on Saturday night.
The Pistons still lost by 16 points, as the Bucks took a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference playoffs. After 10 days of rest and some whispers that he was done for this season, Griffin had a gutsy performance, with 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists. He needed more help — a lot more.
In a series that has only reinforced the notion that the Bucks are likely the favorite in the East, the Pistons have squirmed around in the spider web — with each movement tightening the vice around them.
What did anyone expect? The Bucks swept the four regular-season games handily, so why would anything be any different in the playoffs — especially without Griffin? It was going to be a tough task, even with a healthy Griffin, along with the Pistons’ best, most-focused effort.
So, what’s the point? Why not just lose the last regular-season game and take a chance in the NBA draft lottery? There are plenty of reasons — maybe not acceptable for the ever-vocal Tank Patrol — but there are some valid takeaways, even if the Pistons are summarily swept out after Monday’s game.
The Monday Drive takes a look at five lessons from the playoffs:
1. Andre Drummond is what he is — and that’s the best rebounder in the league. He’s not Griffin, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis or any of those superstars. Many of his critics are caught up on his salary — $25.4 million this season — and have the unreasonable expectation that he’s going to play at an elite level for 82 games, plus the playoffs.
In reality, he’s still 25 and is still an incomplete player, even in his seventh season. So are a bunch of other players in the league, and in almost every sport. That was part of the point of getting Griffin, to help Drummond have a model from whom he could learn the finer points. It’s not going to happen in a year or two, but there is some progress. It doesn’t help that in possibly the biggest game of his career, Drummond had one of his worst games.
Fans booing his lack of focus is fair. He smiled after missed baskets in Game 3, acknowledging that he knew it wasn’t his day. The next step is turning that around. Tanking doesn’t provide that opportunity to learn from the mistakes.
2. Luke Kennard is ready for the big stage. It’s another lesson that no one would know for sure without a trip to the postseason. Kennard had been showing signs of a breakout season, but no one predicted that he would average 20 points in the first two playoff games.
On Saturday, he was paired with Griffin in the starting lineup and posted only nine points. As was the case in the regular season, Kennard seems to get lost when in the starting lineup with Griffin — and the reason why is something to figure out in the offseason. There will be some phone calls from teams interested in trading for Kennard, but the Pistons rightfully won’t budge.
3. The roster needs some work. There’s no real mystery in this, but senior adviser Ed Stefanski and the new front office did what they could to revamp the roster. This summer will provide another opportunity. With a Thanos-like snap, half the roster can be gone: Wayne Ellington, Ish Smith, Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia are on expiring contracts. They have a team-option on Glenn Robinson III’s deal for next year. Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer, Langston Galloway and Thon Maker’s contracts will expire after next season. That’s a lot of potential turnover, using this regular season and playoff run as a gauge of what they’re seeking.
4. The Bucks are really good. Don’t be surprised if this same type of domination happens to the Celtics and 76ers or Raptors in following rounds. Their depth around Giannis Antetokounmpo could give them an advantage over the two-time defending champion Warriors as well.
“Last night was a pretty good example of the type of team Milwaukee is,” Griffin said. “Not only do they have weapons, but they use their weapons really well and they’ve designed a team that ream complements each other and Giannis.”
Antetokounmpo could win the MVP, Mike Budenholzer could win coach of the year and the Bucks look to be the favorites in the East. Not a bad year for a team that was just trying to find its way as the sixth seed a couple years ago.
5. The fan base still is there. Despite some malaise throughout the season, the fans showed up to Little Caesars Arena en masse, filling it to capacity at 20,520. Fans were as loud at the beginning of the game and for the Pistons’ opening salvo as they’ve been for any game in the two years of the arena’s existence.
“The crowd here, I haven’t seen it like that in my entire time here,” Griffin said.
That’s something to build on, with more focus on creating that excitement in the regular season instead of a good start and then immediate fizzle in the second month of the season. It’s all lessons learned for a team that’s a little behind where it should be, but possibly still far from where it’s going.
Pistons vs. Bucks
Game 1: Bucks 121, Pistons 86
Game 2: Bucks 120, Pistons 99
Game 3: Bucks 119, Pistons 103
Game 4: Bucks at Pistons, 8 Monday (FSD, TNT/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