Consider the plight of the Piston fan.
Back when Detroit actually had playoff aspirations--surprisingly not as long ago as you might think--Josh Smith's penchant for wayward jump-shooting was a source of constant frustration. By now you probably know the story: Smith's lack of touch from the perimeter this season has been matched only by his lack of remorse, as the Pistons' $54 million summer signing has rewarded his new fans with the worst season of his career.
So of course Smith's jumper would come around on a night like this: with two weeks left in the season, with nothing left to play for, and with the Pistons needing to finish in the top eight of the draft order just to avoid losing their protected lottery pick to Charlotte. Smith scored 14 of his 26 points in the final 5:28 of the fourth quarter to coax the struggling Pistons past the struggling Bucks 116-111 at the Palace on Monday night, connecting on a pair of threes and two more long jumpers after the Bucks had extended to a 98-92 lead midway through the fourth. Yep, Piston fans were thrilled. (warning: Piston fans get vulgar when Josh Smith's jump shot wins them games).
Smith's late show complemented a dynamite night all around from Greg Monroe, who overwhelmed the Bucks' smaller front line with 28 points (12/21 fg), 14 rebounds and a pair of blocks. As for Bucks fans...well, let's just say another competitive, entertaining loss featuring good things from Giannis Antetokounmpo (14 points, 4/6 fg, 5 rebounds) is something no one will complain about too loudly.
Brandon Jennings played well with 20 points and 13 assists against his former team, though the Pistons also struggled to contain the Bucks' backcourt of Ramon Sessions (20 points/11 assists) and Brandon Knight (25 points on 21 shots, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 0 turnovers). Milwaukee's guards moved the ball and attacked the rim all night, combining to hit 20/25 free throws and leading the Bucks to a 24-19 edge in fast break points.
Nineteen of those points came in the opening half, with the Bucks using a 31-18 second quarter to race to a 61-52 halftime edge. Detroit's defense spent much of the first three quarters on the backfoot, as the Bucks looked to push the ball at every turn while repeatedly burning the Piston defense (mainly Smith) with off-ball cuts. Aside from the good looks served up by Sessions and Knight, Zaza Pachulia had another of his patented Point Statue nights with six assists to complement 13 rebounds, three blocks and 12 points (albeit on 6/13 shooting). However, the game began to tilt back in Detroit's direction when Andre Drummond (10 points, 16 rebounds), Monroe and Smith became a bit more attentive defensively in the second half, as Knight in particular struggled to finish over the length of his former teammates.
The win puts Detroit in sole possession of the not-at-all-coveted eighth spot in the lotto standings, while the 14-win Bucks maintain a two-win gap/lead over the 16-win Sixers, who followed up their blowout win over the Pistons on Saturday with a 103-95 loss in Atlanta tonight. Next up for Milwaukee: a rematch with the Heat on Wednesday in South Beach.
- After looking not encumbered by his sore ankle on Saturday, Giannis started quickly with eight first half points tonight: a backdoor slam and one on a slumbering Smith, a spot-up wing triple, and a reverse slam off another cut past a sleeping Detroit defense. Where have all these cuts been the last few months, eh? All three buckets came courtesy of good feeds from Zaza, who fittingly was also the beneficiary of both of Giannis' assists in the second half. Giannis' only miss of the half came from awkwardly overlaying a reverse layup after appearing to travel, though there was little else to complain about from the 19-year-old rookie.
- With the game tied at 85 early in the fourth, Giannis deflected a Rodney Stuckey perimeter pass and scooped it up on the run before Stuckey shoulder-barged him to the floor for a flagrant-one foul. Thankfully Giannis dusted himself off in short order, hitting both free throws and adding another spot-up three to complete a five-point possession moments later. His 14 points were the most he's scored since piling up 15 in garbage time in Orlando on January 31, and his 30 minutes tonight were just the second time he's hit that mark over the past month. It was an encouraging bounce-back game following Saturday night's 0/5 performance, as Giannis showed no obvious effects of the ankle injury that appeared to slow him down against the Lakers.
- John Henson finished with a nondescript 7 points (3/8 fg) and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes, but don't let that obscure the agony of watching the first dozen or so of those minutes. Henson overlaid a fastbreak layup (DUNK IT JOHN) in the first half, then blew another layup in the second half (DUNK IT JOHN) before mercifully coaxing a wide-open oops-a-daisy almost dunk in the third quarter. Yes, it was painful. Defensively it wasn't much better for the most part, as the Piston bigs pounded on Henson in the early going before Henson had a bit more success in helping the Bucks to their lead early in the fourth.
- The Bucks were leading 98-95 when Drew swapped out the reserve front line of Antetokounmpo, Henson and Ekpe Udoh for Knight, Zaza and Jeff Adrien with 5:13 remaining. Detroit responded with a 9-0 run to effectively put the game away, as the Bucks went four minutes before Pachulia's layup made it 108-104 with 85 seconds left. I'm not sure the loss can really be blamed on that move though--though they struggled defending against the Pistons' size up front, Zaza and Adrien (16 points/7 boards) had outplayed Ekpe and Henson to that point, and normally you wouldn't mind Smith jacking up four long jumpers down the stretch.