MILWAUKEE – The Detroit Pistons preached defense heading into Game 2 of their first-round playoff match-up with the Milwaukee Bucks. Up until half-time, the plan worked, as they held a rare lead at half-time, 59-58.
From there, things got ugly, as Giannis Anteokounmpo owned the third, before Eric Bledsoe closed the door in the fourth, leading Milwaukee to a runaway 120-99 victory.
The Bucks have now won the first two games in the series by an average of 28 points, registering consecutive 20-plus point playoff victories for the first time since 1974, and just the fourth-time in franchise history.
The Bucks blew the Pistons away in a dominant 35-17 third period, a stretch that Milwaukee center Brook Lopez believes came down to improved energy.
“I thought Detroit came out in the second quarter and their energy exceeded ours. At times, their focus exceeded ours,” Lopez said.
“It was a great to see our team’s response. We’ve been great so far in the playoffs. The playoffs are very long, but we have to keep just taking it one game at a time.”
Australian Thon Maker, had another rough night shooting the ball, finishing with six points on 2-for-9 shooting, including 0-3 from beyond the three-point line. Maker is now a disappointing 0-for-9 from deep on the series.
“I’m going to have those looks all day, so I can’t rush those. I have to take my time, go back to the gym, get some shots up,” Maker said.
Maker was once again tasked with the challenge of defending Anteokounmpo, swatting one shot away emphatically, before finding himself on the receiving end of a vicious post dunk just seconds later, in one of the more entertaining sequences of the night.
Despite falling into a 2-0 deficit in the series, Maker believes the Pistons can head home with some positives, regardless of their second half fadeout.
“A lot of great stuff [tonight] I feel like we moved the ball really well, got back in transition. They weren’t getting a feel for us, we were getting back in transition, getting stops and it threw them off. We were playing faster than usual, I feel like we did a lot of great things.”
The vibe in the locker flew in the face of what the scoreboard may have suggested it should be, with Pistons players remaining upbeat, a message that head coach Dwane Casey is ensuring remains constant.
“Coach is telling us to believe, we got to believe. They are a great team, we have to pay our respects to that but sometimes you got to understand it's just basketball at the end of the day," Maker explained.
"Hats off to them for doing what they are supposed to do but we got to do what we are supposed to do also.”
In the Milwaukee locker room, it was business as usual, with the players making a quick exit, ready to move on to game three, feeling as confident as ever.
Bledsoe in particular has been smiling a lot of late, his mood in stark contrast to the frustrated figure he appeared just 12 months earlier in the playoffs against the Boston Celtics.
The star point guard pointed to that playoff experience as a key learning experience for this Bucks group, who continue to bolster their title credentials with each game.
“I think we hold each other accountable and talk to each other in any situation without people getting mad or anything. Us being in that tough environment [last season] helped us grow as a team,” Bledsoe said.
“We know each other's game, we know what each other are capable of doing so we trust each other to make the right play and we add coach Bud as well. We got a team that’s confident in each other. I mean, that says a lot.”
That relaxed attitude was never more clear than in the post-game press conference room, as Antetokounmpo tip toed his way to the podium, humming the 'Pink Panther' theme - an ode to his custom pink Nike outfit.
After the presser was complete, Antetokounmpo had a tip for those present.
"Go and watch the Pink Panther movie," Antetokounmpo smiled.
After two games, the 1 v 8 match-up is following the script to a tee. While Milwaukee look destined to cruise to a four game sweep, Maker continues to remind anyone that will listen of an old adage.
“The series doesn’t start until someone steals one on the road.”
The Detroit Pistons host the Milwaukee Bucks in game three of the first-round playoff series on Sunday morning – Tip-off is at 9:00am