Detroit – God bless Dwane Casey and his broad shoulders.
There was the Pistons head coach again Saturday night, after another frustrating loss, taking the blame for everything from botched defensive switches to the fatally sluggish start against a Bulls team that had staggered into Little Caesars Arena on a six-game losing streak.
“Lack of intensity,” he said after his team couldn’t climb out of a 15-point first-quarter hole and lost 108-99. “I take responsibility for that. We didn’t get our guys ready to play and come out with the right intensity.”
That’s not on him, of course. These are highly-paid professional athletes. Coming out with the proper intensity is the least they can do. And it wasn’t a lack of coaching that caused the Pistons to be consistently beaten off the dribble and at the basket – giving up 60 points in the paint, 40 in the first half.
Casey’s willingness -- his insistence, really -- to take all the bullets for a predominantly young basketball team is admirable. But, reading between the lines, his patience seems to be running thin. There is a fine line, he said, between accepting youthful mistakes and enabling bad habits.
There was one particular play Saturday night that stuck in his gut. There was a loose ball in the paint. Five Pistons players surrounded Bulls center Daniel Gafford. Instead of getting on the floor and fighting for the ball, they watched him pick it up and dunk it clean.
“That can’t happen,” he said. “Those are the kinds of mistakes you can’t live with. You’re not building the right culture with those kind of mistakes.”
That’s not the only tightrope Casey is walking these days. He’s built the offense around creating 3-point shots and he’s going into games nightly without three of his top guns – Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard and Reggie Jackson. So, not only are they missing their best 3-point shooter (Kennard), they are also missing their best facilitators.
That’s forced him, among other things, to play 31-year-old veteran Derrick Rose heavy minutes – which is the last thing he hoped to have to do. Over the last six games, Rose is averaging 30 minutes a game, five over his season average.
“I’ve got to cut his minutes and I hate to say that,” Casey said. “He can’t keep playing the minutes he’s playing or he won’t be around much. He’ll be in a suit. We’ve got to make sure we take care of him.”
But how? Rose scored 20 points and dished seven assists in 29 minutes Saturday. It was his fifth straight game of at least 20 points, which he hasn’t done since 2012. He keyed the surge that got the Pistons back into the game in the second half. But there never seems to be a good time to give a break.
Case in point: Casey took Rose out with four minutes left in the third quarter with the Pistons down just four. By the end of the quarter, the deficit was back up to 10. It’s a Catch-22, for sure.
“Derrick is a godsend,” Casey said. “He wants to play, which I love. His spirit, his heart, he wants to make plays and he wants to win. But we’ve got to help him. We’ve got to keep his usage rate down.”
One way to do that, at least until Kennard and Jackson return, is to throw rookie Jordan Bone into the fire, which Casey said is likely to happen here soon.
“We’ve got to get him some run and get him some time up here so he can learn,” he said of Bone, who is averaging 17 points and 7.5 assists at Grand Rapids. “But after the game we’re going to come in here and you’re going to ask what happened on that pick and roll? What happened on that play that he missed?
“Young guys are going to make young mistakes and it’s up to us coaches to continue to teach and develop; and to keep their spirits up and make sure our foundation and culture of hard play stays intact.”
Andre Drummond’s night ended in frustration Saturday night. He was ejected less than two minutes into the third quarter after he threw the ball off the back of Gafford’s head. But it started happily. His first bucket was a 3-pointer, snapping a 0-for-19 drought.
… Guard Bruce Brown has made a steal in 11 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the NBA.
… The Pistons hadn’t been swept by the Bulls in a season series since 2012.