Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons vs. Toronto Raptors

Time to look back at the insane and entertaining overtime game the Pistons and Raptors played. What worked for the Pistons, what didn’t, and what will it say about the final stretch of the season?


This was a bad loss.

I didn’t think it was that bad. The Raptors were admittedly on the second night of a back to back but most of their guys did not have to play a whole lot the night before. On top of that, as has been further proved since this game, the Raptors are for real.

Still should’ve won.

Yeah, that’s fair. The Pistons wasted a great game from Blake Griffin with a terrible third quarter but more than anything else DeMar DeRozan is just really good.


The Pistons played bad defense on DeRozan though.

I mean…







And those are just the ones I happened to pick out. DeMar DeRozan is really good. After the second viewing I actually felt like the Pistons did a decent job of defending him, he was just on his game.

Bullock clearly couldn’t do it though. Should’ve let Ennis or someone else guard him.

Well, Ennis is really the only other viable option with Stanley Johnson out and he was having some trouble. Ennis actually guarded DeRozan for more of the game that Bullock did but was having serious trouble staying in front of him. There were a lot of plays that looked something like this:



Obviously, Ennis’ size makes it harder for DeRozan to just shoot it over him, but his inability to stay in front meant that the Pistons really didn’t have a good option and they made the right one I think. When choosing between DeRozan getting free into the paint consistently or getting space for jumpers consistently I’d choose jumpers. DeRozan is of course good enough to kill you like that, just as he ended up doing, but it is the lesser of two evils as far as I’m concerned.


What about that dunk?

Yeah, let’s just get this over with.



Let’s start by pointing out that this was, objectively, an incredible play by DeRozan regardless of the failure of the Pistons. Even with all of the screw ups, there are not a lot of dudes who are making that play or a different play with the same result.


That said, ouch.

In news that should surprise no-one given the way the last couple of months have gone, the main breakdown and biggest culprit is Ish Smith having zero defensive awareness.

Lowry comes to set a screen for DeRozan, which catches Reggie Bullock, that Smith does not recognize to take a step over and stop DeRozan from charging past. In fact, Smith not only does not move over to stop DeRozan, he leans into Lowry and makes the screen even bigger which kills any chance Reggie Bullock has to get back into the play.

Everything after that is honestly nothing. Once Smith inexplicably allows DeRozan to get loose the Pistons are pretty much screwed.

Blake Griffin maybe could’ve done something by not stepping out of the way, but considering that the Pistons would lose the game with DeRozan passing out to a corner three you can’t say that the idea to not over commit was awful. Especially since he likely saw Anthony Tolliver and recognized that he was not going to get a better chance to contest than Tolliver.

Also a shout-out to Anthony Tolliver. He went for it and even though he is now on a poster forever, that was actually pretty close to a great defensive play.


How about the game-winner?

Less fail, more DeMar being really good.



First off, the Pistons got the look they wanted on offense. Reggie Bullock has pretty well proven himself to be one of the best shooters in the league, certainly the best on the team, and they got him a wide open look. He missed but those are the breaks, both teams end up getting good looks and only one team hit them.

Then some bad luck, the rebound goes a bit long and right into the hands of DeRozan who is off to the races immediately while both Drummond and Griffin are under the hoop attempting to get the offensive rebound.

Drummond, one of the fastest big men in the NBA, runs hard to try and get back in the play and isn’t able to. This means that, once again, the Pistons are in a losing situation of having three guards try and stop a rampaging DeMar DeRozan from getting to the hoop.

It is worth mentioning that Reggie Bullock kind of blew this by taking those initial steps towards DeRozan instead of going straight back to defense.

Even though it was probably the right call, given that otherwise, you have Luke Kennard as the rim protector against DeRozan (which ends poorly for Kennard), there is something poetic in the Pistons losing to a wide open three-point shooter that Ish Smith abandoned.


Ish Smith took a charge.

I mean, probably, but that isn’t getting called here. DeRozan has passed by the time he runs into Smith, which is not a call that happens much in the NBA regardless. In college yes, in the NBA no. To be honest, I actually prefer it that way too, this one would’ve probably been correct, but there are a lot of those that end up being really stupid.

You’re being kind of hard on Ish Smith. He made a couple of plays.

He did make a couple of plays including a clutch three-pointer. But he also does a whole lot of bad over the course of a game since opponents have figured out how to keep him from ever getting into transition. Have a look at these, but be warned, it isn’t pretty.






With Ish Smith on the floor, the Pistons are regularly playing four on five. That is what four on five looks like, the Raptors are not just sagging off Smith, or giving him space, or helping off of him, they are totally and completely ignoring him without any amount of fear. Also just as a show of his absurd defensive decisions:



Yes, let’s leave Kyle Lowry open to double team the ferocious post threat –squints at paper– Jakob Poeltl. The thing that makes this even more frustrating is that Smith is so small that he is doing no good even as a double teamer. Poeltl easily finds and passes to Lowry over Smith with very little trouble.

So not only did he make a dumb gamble to go and double-team in the first place, his double-team is totally ineffective.

So like, if Andre Drummond did this, it would be just as dumb a decision to leave such a good shooter open with such little threat, Poeltl is a solid player but Moreland is right there and mostly has it under control, but at least Drummond and Moreland (why they are on the floor together I don’t know but this is theoretical) would form a pretty terrifying trap that would have a chance to create a turnover or something.

Lastly, on Smith, this is less of a problem than the shooting and erratic defense, but it is still majorly upsetting.



A combination of lack of size to see over the defense and just plain poor vision makes Smith miss these passes all the time. You have one of the most athletic big men in the NBA running full-tilt to the hoop and no one in front of him in transition! Throw the ball up to him man! If you wonder why it sometimes seems like Drummond doesn’t roll or run quite as hard to the hoop with Ish Smith, this is why Smith never finds him.

This is also going to be a big area where Reggie Jackson will be a welcome return because he is great at those passes.


Ok so what about the rest of the game? What was good?

A good thing is that Reggie Bullock continues to impress and surprise. They overdid it for a few games by putting the ball in his hands more than he was ready for, but he is already looking more comfortable with dribble handoffs and is getting better results.




It still looks kind of awkward, but he is doing better at getting his feet under him for his pull-up jumpers while being a bit more in control going to the hoop. Even if it can’t be a heavy usage option, he has shown enough ability that it is a tool worth using at times.

Per Synergy, he has crept into the 72nd percentile on dribble hand-offs. When he shoots out of them the Pistons get 1.04 points per possession which are decent enough considering that he has enough passing chops that he can make some plays when a shot isn’t available. I’ll be interested to see if the Pistons look to have him do this more next year.

Another great thing with Bullock has been that he and Griffin have already developed great chemistry playing a two-man game that can only come from two super smart players. Bullock’s cuts are so good that you have to respect them:



I mean, come on, how many times have you seen a dude get his ankles broken by a back-door cut?

And of course, Griffin’s mean screens combine with Bullock’s shooting to be a killer combination. The Pistons have regularly gone to Griffin and Bullock in crunch-time and have gotten some great results including this clutch bucket:



It’s just a killer combination. You can’t overplay the screen because Bullock will just back-door you, you can’t over-hedge the screen because you have to respect Griffin’s driving ability, and obviously Bullock is a sniper. Combine that with both guys being super smart and excellent passers and you’ve got a winning combination.

Eric Moreland was also on his game defensively which is always good. Sometimes he can play a little bit too out of control and sometimes he doesn’t quite have his energy high enough. This game he had the right combination.




He plays with a certain anger and edge. He is probably overmatched as a full-time backup but he can play. If he can manage to keep up his recent scoring improvement (which is to say he is scoring at all) he could maybe even last as a full-time backup.


Luke Kennard got the start in this game, how did he do?

Pretty well. He still shows his biggest problem, both right now and going forward, of that he can’t really finish over guys in the lane.



He does, however, continue to show great promise as a playmaker.




That is some pretty high-level stuff for such a young player. He sometimes gets too casual and comfortable which results in careless turnovers, but his comfort is generally a good thing.

Also, of course, he can still do this:



This dude is good and has real potential to be really good.

On top of Kennard on the wing, I’ve been super impressed with James Ennis’ ability to attack off the dribble.





And I hope Stanley Johnson is watching the way he is relentless in attacking in transition.



He has a tighter handle than I expected and has a knack for hitting goofy shots at weird angles. I don’t know if it is plausible for the Pistons to keep him, we will see, but he is fun to have around.


So how about Blake Griffin? The numbers were great, but how good was he?

Blake Griffin is very good.

First off, his defense is getting better! Still not great, but not so terrible and close to decent. And they have done it largely by making adjustments to try and let him stay closer to the paint. Often they would achieve this by switching, and Griffin would do a respectable job.




Or just in generally letting him hang back in pick and rolls.



That last play I want to highlight. Griffin sticks with the ball-handler to block the shot, then recovers to keep with Jonas Valanciunas and then uses his quick hands to swipe the ball away. As a cherry on top, he immediately pushes the ball in transition to force a foul. He is still not great defensively of course, and he was helped by Serge Ibaka getting ejected in this game, but he is improving and getting more comfortable.


What about his offense?

I mean, it was pretty good. One thing I like is that they are trying to run more off-ball stuff to get him switches and positions that are good for him so he has less work to do once he gets the ball.



Other than that, I mean, Blake Griffin is just stupidly good.







I mean, clutch bucket after clutch bucket. Getting tons of work in. This was just a brilliant game from Griffin.

One other thing worth mentioning, it isn’t like most of those plays are taking advantage of Griffin’s athleticism. I think his game is going to age better than a lot of people are making it seem like.


Any little things?

I touched on it earlier, but when guys are looking for Drummond, put it up, not down. Griffin gets the right idea here even if he misses.



That is much preferred to this:



You want to reward a guy for running the floor hard, but the more lobs to try and get him dunks the better. Especially when the other option is likely resulting in a jump-hook.

They also busted out a really nice play to get Anthony Tolliver an open three.



It is a little bit hard to see on the broadcast (for some reason my DVR recorded the ESPN broadcast instead of the FSD one which I did not like) but it’s a nifty bit of play design.

There is a fairly basic start of having a shooter (Tolliver) screen for a cutter and then popping out, but he slips the screen and darts beyond the line quicker than expected and Drummond is waiting for the defense with a huge screen.

Drummond didn’t have a great game, but he has probably put to bed his demons with Jonas Valanciunas and plays like this show why.



In past years he is biting on those pump fakes. Valanciunas ends up hitting a tough shot, but that is great defense from Drummond.


Anything fun?

Reggie Bullock is ridiculous.




It was also funny how the end of the third quarter gave a good indication of how the rest of the game would go. Slightly crazy, with great effort, and small margins.



So what’s the final verdict on this game?

Every loss hurts at this point, but the Raptors are awesome and DeMar DeRozan in incredible. This was an encouraging game in a lot of ways. Blake Griffin has pretty much found his comfort zone, Reggie Bullock is awesome, Luke Kennard continues to show great promise. The second watch also made me want to see what this team will do with Reggie Jackson back even more.


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