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Bucks vs. Pistons: Dame (and Defense?) Defeats Deep-Heavy Detroit

Damian Lillard and, arguably, defense nudged the Bucks past the Pistons’ outlier shooting from downtown.

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Detroit Pistons 141-135. Dame had an afternoon to remember, putting up 45 points on 12/22 shooting (5/11 from deep) and a sterling 16/16 from the stripe. However, the Pistons decided that not only do they now shoot threes, but they make them too, to the effect of a 21-37 performance. Bojan Bogdanovic even banked one in for good measure. That resulted in a closer game than many Bucks fans (this one included) were hoping for. However, after some heavy introspection in the last couple of hours, I have convinced myself that the glass is half-full if not moreso. We’ll see if you agree.

Game Summary

The first quarter was marked by perfect shooting from Brook alongside mostly successful isolation and two-man games on one end, but overshadowed by the usual defensive problems alongside red-hot shooting from deep by Alec Burks and the Pistons on the other end. A near-the-buzzer three from Pat kept the Bucks within four, 38-34.

They kept raining threes in the second quarter, including the aforementioned bank shot from Bojan. Fortunately the defense improved slightly (or at least the Pistons regressed a bit to the mean) and Dame finally started to find his groove. He copied his former Trail Blazer teammate by hitting a three to close quarter with the Bucks up 70-67.

Dame continued to put on a show after halftime. But just when the Bucks seem to pulling away thanks to a cocktail of cold shooting and heavy fouling from Detroit, Jaden Ivey turned it on, and we were back into grind mode. Still, Dame was too much for the Pistons to retake the lead, which the Bucks held a 103-98 lead into the final frame.

The Pistons briefly took the lead to start the fourth thanks to Future Buck Mike Muscala and Ausar “Not-The-One-On-The-Rockets” Thompson, leading to the following analysis in my notes: “Eep.” But Giannis, who had been relatively quiet thus far, drove repeatedly to the basket to drag the Bucks across the finish line, with a little help from Dame as he padded his stats to his Bucks-high scoring output.

The Bucks will stay in Detroit for the weekend before a rematch on Monday night.

What Did We Learn?

I don’t want to hype the Bucks’ defense too much after they gave up 135 points to the freaking Pistons. But hear me out.

The Bucks only gave up 40 points in the paint, helped in part by six blocks. In turn, they corralled 41 defensive rebounds (while conceding nine offensive boards). There were the few usual blemishes, but their interior defense was alright.

They elected to let the Pistons take threes - not a bad strategy against a team that is 27th in the league in 3P%! - and they seemed to offer at least some resistance from the outside. If the Pistons made an average number of threes (falsely assuming that they would have kept hoisting them up, but bear with), the Bucks would have won by 30. Quite a different outcome! (And making some of their 14 missed free throws would’ve helped too.)

Usually teams lose when their opponents go off from three. The Bucks didn’t. That probably has something to do with the (lack of) quality of the Pistons, but they’ve looked better in recent games, coming within single-digits of Minnesota and Houston. So, glass half-full?

(In contrast, the Bucks’ offense was notably less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts. After a lot of isolation to start the game, I was pleased by the number of assists that were being generated on smart cuts to the rim. But as the game dragged on, and the number of possessions of true team basketball remained on the floor, that pleasure waned. A nice two-man routine is a marked improvement over iso-ball, but most of them felt improvisational (like the classic Khris to Giannis oop). Improvisation is lovely, but a system that would minimize it to the end of the shot clock and clutch time would be lovelier. But don’t worry: Coach Griffin said the team is working on building good habits and will implement the blue squares in due time.)

Three Hot Takes

Andre Jackson Jr. should be given the opportunity to foul out every game.

AJax should be playing every minute of every game until he fouls out midway through the second quarter. Why not? His strengths are the Bucks’ weaknesses: he is young and he can play defense. Today, he had a tip-out and a put-back dunk. I wouldn’t play him over the Top Four, but that still leaves one more spot on the floor. The jury is still out on Jae’s return, but unless he is better at defense than I remember, AJax has my vote.

Bench points don’t matter.

The Pistons’ bench outscored the Bucks’ bench. By a lot. Like, a lot: 85-18. But what matters is the final score, where the Bucks came out on top. I get that bench points can be a useful metric for whether bench players are contributing, but they don’t really need to score on this Bucks team as currently constructed. And it’s not like they’re playing in waves like in hockey; bench players are played sparingly and alongside starters, who will continue to score. Especially for a playoff team like the Bucks that will hemorrhage most of its bench players come May, I remain unconvinced that bench points matter that much.

Mike Muscala should be a Buck.

Is Mike Muscala available? I mean as a trade / buy-out candidate, of course. He was a perfect 4-4 from deep and, last time I checked, is not a Lopez brother. Do it for Mitchell, Jon.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • The Bucks have the most wins in the first half of the season since the year before they won the championship. Lol.
  • The Sargento tip-off banner continues to be the bane of my existence.
  • I tried to track attempted steals and failed miserably. But, for what it’s worth, the Bucks’ six steals was in line with their season average during wins and Dame’s one steal (in the dying embers of the game) was in line with his season average during wins. The plural of anecdote is not data, but I’m taking that as a win.
  • Yet another weird challenge episode: Detroit challenged a foul against Giannis, only for the refs to call the foul against another player instead, keeping Giannis at the line but also allowing Detroit to keep their challenge.
  • Follow this space for an in-depth analysis of the Dame Gatorade ad.
  • Bit of a sloppy start to the second half, with two of the sloppiest turnovers I have ever seen. The ball bounced off of Brook and Dame for the first and then Khris and Giannis for the second. So much for the Top Four.
  • Dame passed Jason Terry for 56th in all-time assists. There’s gotta be a higher threshold for announcing these things.
  • Drink every time the Bucks lose a stinker before a few days off and Coach Griffin mentions that they were able to get in “a couple of good practices” before the next game.

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