Detroit — In the past two months, the Pistons have played some of their most solid basketball games of the season. Even in losses, the final margins of the games have been close.
Not this time.
The defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks, still looking to hold on to a high playoff seed, jumped out to a hot start, and the Pistons got off to an uncharacteristically slow start in the first quarter. They never recovered, and after falling into a 22-point first-quarter deficit, they couldn’t climb out.
The Bucks cruised in the second half to a 131-101 victory on Friday night in the Pistons’ home finale at Little Caesars Arena. The Pistons wrap up the season on Sunday at Philadelphia.
Rodney McGruder had a career-high 26 points, Cade Cunningham 14 points, six rebounds and six assists and Saddiq Bey 18 points for the Pistons (23-58).
“They’re a well-oiled machine, they’re playing like a championship team, and they’re hitting on all cylinders,” coach Dwane Casey said. “That’s one of the first stinkers we’ve had since All-Star break.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo bolstered his MVP credentials with 30 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.
The Pistons started 1-of-16 from the field in the first quarter, and they had just one field goal — a Killian Hayes baseline dunk — for a stretch of 8:36, until Cunningham scored on a drive with 1:50 remaining. In between, they managed just two free throws from Isaiah Stewart (five points, 12 rebounds and four assists).
The Bucks (51-30) started the onslaught, with a 23-4 run before Cunningham’s basket, with a pair of 3-pointers from Khris Middleton (15 points) and a pair of drives from Jrue Holiday (10 points and nine assists).
The Pistons closed to within 30-8 at the end of the first quarter, when the offense finally woke up. McGruder got going, with 14 points in the first five minutes, including three 3-pointers and a three-point play.
“He’s a young man that really put the work in. He’s in the gym every day — even on days off,” Casey said. “He’s a pro, and I hope our young guys can take a tip from him and model themselves after him.”
He opened the quarter with a 3-pointer and followed with another on the next possession. The Pistons had a 13-0 run later in the quarter, kick-started by a 3-pointer by Carsen Edwards and a dunk by Braxton Key. McGruder shined with two free throws, a steal, lay-in and free throw and then a 3-pointer, to get within single digits, 37-29, at the 7:39 mark of the period.
Wesley Mathews followed with a three-point play and a lay-in, to give the Bucks more cushion with a 16-5 run. The Bucks finished the half with two baskets by Holiday and held a 56-38 lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Bucks put it away, with a pair of baskets by Mathews, and a 17-2 run midway through the period, with nine points by Brook Lopez (17 points) and seven points by Antetokounmpo, for their largest lead, 76-44. Antetokounmpo scored 11 straight Bucks points, finishing with a 3-pointer, and the Bucks got the lead down to 90-68 entering the fourth quarter.
The Bucks cruised the rest of the way.
We’re running a new-subscriber special. Support local journalism, and subscribe here.