'We'll be fine': Pistons start strong, still broomed by Bucks
Detroit — Andre Drummond played better. Blake Griffin played hard. Reggie Jackson played well. The Pistons had a double-digit lead and played their best game of the playoff series — and still lost by a large margin.
It’s a testament to how good the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks are — and how far the Pistons will have to come in the offseason to catch up with the new dominant team in the Eastern Conference.
The Pistons were overmatched and had an uphill climb in the series, but even their 12-point lead in the first quarter evaporated, as the Bucks wore them down and earned a 127-104 victory in Game 4 on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.
The Bucks advance to face the Boston Celtics in the second round.
The loss ends the Pistons’ season after getting swept for the third straight time in the playoffs. They were swept by Cleveland in 2016 and in 2009.
The end of the season sets the stage for an interesting offseason. In many ways, they can use the Bucks as a measuring stick of how far they have to go, but also as a model for how they need to retool.
Reggie Jackson had 20 of his 26 points in the first half and Griffin finished with 22 points, five rebounds and six assists before fouling out with 7:06 remaining in the game. He left to a rousing ovation, with chants of “MVP! MVP!” as an homage to the best season of his career.
“Blake played his heart out with basically one leg and he gave everything he could for our team. He fought through a lot of pain and swelling, just so he could support his teammates,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I think we were in sixth place when he started experiencing the swelling and everything, but he kept with it and kept playing until he couldn't play anymore.
“He gave everything he could to our team, and without him we wouldn't have had a chance to make the playoffs. So, he has meant so much to our team, just his presence, his physicality and style of play.”
Drummond atoned for his subpar performance in Game 3 with an energetic follow-up, with 15 points and 12 rebounds, including an inspired first quarter, which saw the Pistons take 12-point lead early.
It still wasn’t enough.
The Bucks were energized behind 41 points, nine rebounds and four blocks from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was electric on both ends of the floor for the entire game. Although Griffin had some success in guarding him, when Antetokounmpo got out in transition or drove to the basket, he either was fouled or made the basket — or both.
“We get stops and we can get out, run and play in transition. Those two things are what I think give us our best chance,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He takes a pounding, but I think he’s built for it. He was great at the free-throw line in the second half. We struggled as a team the first half, but he kept getting to the free-throw line. Yeah, Giannis was special tonight.”
The Bucks took the Pistons’ best punch and turned it around, using a 17-3 run in the final 4:35 of the third quarter to turn an 82-78 deficit into a 95-85 lead entering the fourth.
Casey got a technical foul for arguing with officials calls and Khris Middleton (18 points) made the free throw, which started the run. Pat Connaughton got a steal and dunk, giving the Bucks the lead for good and Nikola Mirotic (12 points) hit a 3-pointer, followed by two free throws from Antetokounmpo, for the first 10 points of the surge.
“That’s an experienced team on the other end over there,” Drummond said. “When we make mistakes, they capitalize on it. Overall, they're just a really good team, tough to beat. We just have to get our experience up and we’ll be fine.”
The Pistons had their biggest lead of the series at 20-8 in the first quarter but the Bucks rallied to pull within 28-26 at the end of the quarter, behind George Hill and Antetokounmpo.
► Jackson got hot in the first half, going 7-of-14 from the field, with three 3-pointers, for a 20-point first half. He was efficient and didn’t force shots, working well with Griffin and finding his spots. Jackson has been searching to find a niche in the offense and did it pretty well in working off Griffin and Drummond. Jackson’s 20 first-half points were the most by a Pistons player in a half in a postseason game since Richard Hamilton had 22 points in the second half against the Celtics on May 24, 2008.
► The crowd grew tense in the third quarter, when a spate of foul calls went against the Pistons. The Pistons were called for seven fouls — and the Bucks just two — in the first eight minutes of the third quarter. The derisive chants of “Ref, you suck!” beamed from the upper deck, as the Pistons had a 26-12 margin on foul calls and a 32-8 advantage on free-throw attempts.
► The boos from Game 3 turned into cheers early in the first quarter for Drummond, who looked to be more focused on the offensive end. He was engaged and scored on putbacks and lay-ins — the same shots that he missed in Saturday’s loss — and he took an offensive foul as well.
► The Bucks’ length bothered the Pistons inside, as they finished with nine blocks, including five by Lopez and four by Antetokounmpo. It wasn’t a deterrent for the Pistons going inside and trying to get easy shots in the paint, but the Bucks were up to the task. The Pistons had shied away a bit from driving but the seemed intent on getting there, only to be rebuked.
► Thon Maker didn’t have a good series against his former team. He didn’t get going from the 3-point line and the Bucks seemed to go at him whenever he was playing center or guarding Antetokounmpo. It’ll be a major focus to add muscle to Maker’s frame and get him stronger on defense and going to the basket in the offseason.
Pistons vs. Bucks
Bucks win series 4-0
Game 1: Bucks 121, Pistons 86
Game 2: Bucks 120, Pistons 99
Game 3: Bucks 119, Pistons 103
Game 4: Bucks 127, Pistons 104