Milwaukee — It was a night of firsts for the Pistons.
It was the first game back for six Pistons players who had been in COVID protocols, including Cade Cunningham, Josh Jackson and Trey Lyles, for most of the past two weeks.
More than that, after a spirited performance that featured outstanding ball movement and 3-point shooting, the Pistons took a surprising 115-106 victory over the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night at Fiserv Forum.
It’s the Pistons’ first back-to-back wins since March 19, 2021, and more importantly, they ended their 12-game regular-season losing streak against the Bucks, with their first win in the head-to-head series since Feb. 28, 2018.
Saddiq Bey continued his superb play, with a career-high 34 points and a career-best eight 3-pointers, along with eight rebounds and four assists. Jackson added a season-high 24 points and five rebounds and Cunningham 19 points and seven assists for the Pistons (7-28).
“It should give us confidence, and it’s not going to change the world,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Growing in this league is not easy, but this is an excellent step for us to take against the world champions who have one of the most balanced rosters in the league.”
The Pistons shot 48% from the field and 42% on 3-pointers, but they kept the ball moving and had 31 assists on their 44 field goals. It was a hearty welcome back after they played shorthanded for the past three games, with eight of their rotation players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
“It’s a big win for us. It’s a breath of fresh air, for sure. Everybody can kind of cool out and just play their game and not think so much,” Cunningham said. “When you’re losing, all the other stuff is kind of amplified, all the problems that you’re having, but when you can find ways to win and stick together through tough games and pull out a victory, everything else you can work through a lot easier with a clear mind.
“We have a clear mind now and we’re just ready to keep moving forward, trying to build on it.”
Entering the fourth quarter, the Pistons had an 87-85 lead, but Jackson hit a 3-pointer. The Bucks answered with a 3-pointer by DeMarcus Cousins and a lay-in by Giannis Antetokounmpo (31 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists) to tie it at 90.
The Pistons took control of the game with another 3-pointer by Jackson, a lay-in by Luka Garza and a drive by Cunningham, which jump-started a 14-4 run over a four-minute span. Bey ended the spurt with a 3-pointer for a 104-94 lead with 6:06 left.
The Bucks (25-14) had another run, with one of two free throws by Jrue Holiday (29 points and five assists) and a basket by Antetokounmpo. The Pistons answered with a basket by Hamidou Diallo (11 points, nine rebounds and five assists) and a stepback jumper from Bey.
Cunningham created some cushion with a 3-pointer to push the lead to 111-98 at the 2:44 mark, but Antetokounmpo got to the free-throw line and made five of six, while the Pistons were scoreless, helping the Bucks get within eight.
Holiday added a 3-pointer to trim the lead to five in the final minutes, but Cunningham scored on a putback to give the Pistons some breathing room.
The Pistons seemed to have answers for every Milwaukee run. In the third quarter, the Bucks got a 3-pointer from Khris Middleton, but the Pistons responded with a 13-0 run, including back-to-back 3-pointers from Bey and a 3-pointer and dunk by Cunningham, for a 74-67 lead.
The Bucks scored six straight points and pulled within one, but Bey hit another 3-pointer, part of his four 3-pointers and 14 points in the quarter.
“I’ve been wondering when we were going to finally figure it out. We’ve done it in stretches,” Jackson said. “We’ve done it for minutes throughout a game, but never like today, where we did it for a whole game. That was a really big step for us to come out and play with that aggression and togetherness for an entire 48 minutes.”