Detroit — When the shots aren’t falling, basketball is a tough game, both to play and to watch.
The Pistons are in one of those stretches where most of their shots are missing and most of the opponents’ shots are falling. It’s making for a tough start to the season, especially against some of the best teams in the league.
Even shorthanded, the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks were able to get their shots to drop, and the Pistons struggled again on offense, in a 117-89 loss on Tuesday night at Little Caesars Arena.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 117, Pistons 89
The Pistons shot just 32% from the field, and the shooting woes were spread around, aside from maybe Jerami Grant, who had 21 points and was 8-of-13 from the field. Trey Lyles had 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench but generating consistent scoring aside from those two proved to be difficult.
“First of all, I’m embarrassed,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We should be embarrassed for the Detroit Pistons brand and the effort that we had. We can’t control whether the shots go in, but you can control the effort. I just thought our effort was lacking tonight.
“We let our missed shots take our energy and our effort down the drain, and that’s what good teams do to you when you don’t bring it and you don’t execute, and they capitalize on your mistakes.”
More: ‘We’ve got to get the feel’: Missed shots hampering Pistons in early goings
The Bucks (4-4), playing without three starters — Khris Middleton (health and safety protocols), Brook Lopez (back) and Jrue Holiday (ankle) — still had plenty of offense with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the supporting cast.
The former MVP finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in 27 minutes and Pat Connaughton added 16 points. The Bucks shot 50% from the field, 46% on 3-pointers and outrebounded the Pistons, 51-43.
The numbers tell the story.
“When you’re not making shots, you start turning down shots, and it’s just a snowball effect from there,” Casey said. “Everything was just a half-step slow.”
The Pistons (1-6) fell into an early hole, with Antetokounmpo hitting shots early. He connected on a baseline jumper, a 3-pointer and completed a three-point play within the first four minutes. At that point, he was outscoring the Pistons, 8-6, with just two 3-pointers from Grant.
The Pistons pulled within 18-14 at the 4:19 mark, after a lay-in by Isaiah Stewart, a jumper by Cade Cunningham, and back-to-back baskets by Grant and Kelly Olynyk.
The Bucks extended the lead to eight, but the Pistons pulled within 24-20 with two free throws by Josh Jackson. The Bucks finished the quarter with a 3-pointer by Justin Robinson to finish the first quarter.
They didn’t have an answer for defensively for Antetokounmpo’s versatility, and the Bucks’ ability to hit from outside.
“He had nine assists and 28 points, so we didn’t do a very good job on him at all. We tried to make sure we crushed him or showed bodies, but he plays with such force that if you don’t bring the same level of force, he’s just that type of player,” Casey said.
“He made us pay when we did over-help, and he got his. When they shoot 46% from three, that’s a tough recipe.”
Early in the second quarter, the Pistons made another run, with seven straight points, including a lay-in by Frank Jackson, a 3-pointer by Lyles and a pair of free throws by Cory Joseph.
Even without their starters, the Bucks found other producers, with Connaughton hitting three 3-pointers in the second quarter and Thanasis Antetokounmpo adding nine points and eight rebounds. The Bucks had a 9-0 run near the end of the second quarter, and the Pistons managed just 12 points in the final 8:34 of the quarter.
The Bucks stretched the lead to 57-39 at halftime, and it went downhill from there. The Pistons were just 5-of-23 (22%) from 3-point range and the Bucks were 8-of-19. That disparity lasted the whole game, as the shooting touch proved to be elusive.
Milwaukee’s lead reached 36 in the fourth quarter, as they cruised to victory and ended their three-game losing streak.