Pistons dig in on D in 2nd half to bypass Bucks 116-111
Milwaukee, which doesn’t fit the definition of an offensive juggernaut, piled up 61 first-half points mostly because the Bucks were scoring without resistance. By John Loyer’s count, they scored seven points in transition after Pistons baskets, which is on the list of cardinal sins no matter how short your list gets.
“We just have to get back because a few of those possessions when they got those points fast, they got ’em off of made shots and that’s unacceptable,” Greg Monroe said after the 116-111 win over the Bucks snapped a three-game losing streak, including two weekend losses by a combined 57 points in which the defense was less than stout. “We did a good job of not turning the ball over, because that led to a lot of their fast breaks. And when we scored, everybody made a better effort to get back early.”
Milwaukee, which put up an alarming 19 fast-break points in the first half, was limited to just five in the second half, zero in the fourth quarter when the Pistons came from six points down.
The Bucks scored 50 points in the second half, but the Pistons at least made them earn those points, limiting them to 33 percent shooting after they shot 56 percent in the first half. In the second quarter alone, the Bucks recorded seven layups and five dunks. After halftime, the only staple of their offense was the free throw; they made 20 of 25 to keep it close.
Loyer used the same phrase Monroe did to describe the easy transition baskets off of Detroit makes: “That’s not acceptable,” he said. “We showed them that at halftime. You’re not going to win basketball games when you do that and, thankfully, we tightened it up at halftime.”
"Getting a win tonight feels good. Everybody’s happy in the locker room."- Andre Drummond on the win
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Even with the tightened second-half defense, that loss was inching closer to their doorstep until Josh Smith found his stroke in the fourth quarter. He returned to the game with 10 minutes remaining sporting an unremarkable line: 11 points, zero rebounds, three assists, a steal and a blocked shot. He scored 15 points in those last 10 minutes, hitting 6 of 9 shots. Smith scored eight points during a 12-0 run that saw the Pistons go from six down with less than six minutes to go to six ahead less than three minutes later.
Included was a corner 3-pointer to spark the run and a ferocious dunk while being fouled.
“That’s the one where it kind of was a relief,” Smith said of the 3-pointer that started the run. “I knew that if I just stepped into it and shot it with confidence, we could make a push.” Of the dunk over Zaza Pachulia that put the Pistons ahead by four, Smith said, “It just was a momentum switcher for us to be able to come out and play the way we’re capable of playing.”
“It seemed like every shot he made tonight in the fourth quarter was a big shot,” Monroe said. “We obviously needed him to pull away.”
Monroe is the one who put Smith in position to matter. The fourth-year pro has made a habit of big games against Milwaukee – he’s averaging 18.5 points and 11 rebounds against the Bucks over the past two seasons – and he had one of his best Monday with 28 points and 14 boards, shooting 12 of 21, while also blocking two shots.
“He didn’t settle for jump shots tonight. He really attacked,” Loyer said. “I thought Greg was fabulous. When we needed a basket, that’s what you’ve got to have down the stretch to win a game – somebody you can throw it to. Greg really came up big. I thought he was super.”
Loyer also got big games from his point guards, ex-Buck Brandon Jennings (20 points, 13 assists) and Will Bynum (12 points, eight assists), so much so that he played them in tandem for the final 10 minutes when the Pistons made their winning push.
“Those two guys got it in the lane and were so unselfish,” he said. “Will was unselfish the first half, moved the ball. We just didn’t make some shots, but Will and Brandon together, they really wanted to win this game. They got in the lane, found Josh for jumpers, got it to Greg and were very, very good.”
They were very, very good – good enough to produce 116 points, which should be enough to win about 98 percent of the time. It wouldn’t have been on this night, though, if the Pistons hadn’t decided at halftime to quit allowing the Bucks uncontested end-to-end sprints.