USA TODAY Sports
The Bucks were hoping to leave Detroit in sole possession of first place in the Central Division and five games above .500 for the first time this season. Instead, they're flying home with a bitter after taste and the momentum from Saturday's win over the Heat a distant memory.
Coming off an exhilarating win last night against the Heat, we all knew the Bucks were ripe for a letdown as they packed their bags for Detroit. Which is why we also knew that beating a 10-22 Piston team on the road would actually be a nice statement of the Bucks' maturity, even if it should have been expected all the same.
Instead, we turned off our TVs knowing that the Bucks are actually...well, still the Bucks.
In a battle of teams that started their weekends with wins over the Miami Heat, the Pistons jumped on the Bucks early and just did manage to hang on late, barely surviving the Bucks' fourth quarter rally thanks to a pair of Tayshaun Prince free throws with ten seconds remaining. Monta Ellis had a chance to tie it on the game's final play, but the Pistons defended the Bucks' P&R well and Ellis settled for an off-balance, running 18-footer that rimmed out and eventually ended up out of bounds as time expired. It was obvious the play was going to be for Ellis and predictable that it would be a high degree of difficulty, and that's precisely why we all love late-game play-calling in the NBA.
Prince led the way for Detroit with 20 points on 8/16 shooting, while Greg Monroe (14 pts, 10 rebs) and Jason Maxiell (10 pts, 10 rebs) added double-doubles on a night that saw Detroit dominate Milwaukee in the paint. Meanwhile, Ellis (30 pts, 9 ast) and Ersan Ilyasova (24 points on 9/12 shooting) were the only consistent offensive threats for the Bucks, who managed to claw their way back into the game behind 10/23 shooting from three.
Detroit's interior dominance was a theme all night, as the Pistons scored 28 of their 30 first quarter points in the paint and outscored the Bucks 60-38 overall in the basket area. With Larry Sanders struggling with foul trouble, Detroit took advantage of an often-undersized Bucks front line in grabbing 17 offensive rebounds on their way to a commanding 48-33 edge on the boards overall.
While Andre Drummond converted all four of his shots, ripped down seven boards and blocked two shots in just under 20 minutes, Sanders slumped to just four points and three rebounds in 20 minutes. Sanders did make a few key defensive plays late to help the Bucks rally, but it was a generally frustrating night to watch the Bucks' big man rotation, which for whatever reason also featured Drew Gooden getting extended minutes in the second half (9 points, 0 rebounds in 16 minutes) after Ekpe Udoh neither took a shot nor grabbed a rebound in 11 first half minutes. While Gooden made a few plays offensively, he predictably did nothing to combat the Pistons' physical dominance inside, a situation Skiles was apparently willing to accept as the Bucks struggled to keep the Pistons' lead in single digits for the vast majority of the second half. In case you were wondering, Sam Dalembert and John Henson still suit up for the Bucks.
Also pulling off a disappearing act was Brandon Jennings, who once again did next to nothing (3/12 fg, 9 pts, 4 ast) to complement one of Ellis' explosive scoring nights. In the five games that Ellis has scored 30+ points this season, Jennings is an awful 17/74 from the field, which goes a long way towards explaining the Bucks' 1-4 record when Ellis scores 30+. It might be fashionable to find some way to bend correlation into causation on this, but to me it's mostly just reflective of Jennings' highly erratic shooting from the field.