AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Detroit Pistons summed up Tuesday’s performance in one-tenth of a second.
With one click left in the first half and Milwaukee leading 49-42, Jason Maxiell fouled Larry Sanders. Sanders made the first free throw, but missed the second. That should have gotten the Pistons into the half trailing by eight, but Samuel Dalembert cleanly beat his defender to tip in the miss and give the Bucks a 10-point lead.
That was one of Milwaukee’s 21 offensive rebounds, while the Pistons chipped in with 21 turnovers in an embarrassing 117-90 loss.
“That was Milwaukee’s third offensive rebound off a free throw in the first half — I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. “One of our biggest keys tonight was to make sure they didn’t get any extra possessions, and between the turnovers and the offensive rebounds, we gave them 42 of them.”
Detroit got off to a great start and led by 15 points late in the first quarter, but were outscored 78-40 over the next 26 minutes.
“They had a 39-14 run to finish the first half — that was obviously a very bad stretch — but it was still just a 10-point game,” Frank said. “But then we came out and gave up 39 points in the third quarter. It just kept getting worse.”
Detroit’s last chance vanished when Brandon Jennings heated up in the third quarter. Jennings, a candidate to replace Rajon Rondo on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, scored 20 points in the period. In one stretch, he hit four 3-pointers in a row before throwing up an airball on the fifth try. The tiny Palace crowd jeered him with an “air-ball” chant, but Jennings just laughed and shrugged it off.
“That turned into the Brandon Jennings show after halftime, and there wasn’t anything we could do to stop it,” Frank said. “He was just hitting everything he looked at — I think he had 16 straight points in that stretch.”
Allowing Jennings that many easy looks was bad enough for the Pistons, but they completely stopped playing defense in the fourth quarter. In one humiliating stretch, Dalembert got two straight uncontested dunks out of the halfcourt offense, and John Henson made it three in a row with an undefended fastbreak dunk on Milwaukee’s next possession.
“They turned it up, and we just collapsed,” Charlie Villanueva said. “It was a strange game. We came out and played well for the first 10 or 11 minutes, and then it was all downhill from there.”
There were few positives in a game like this, especially when the Pistons need a win if they want to take advantage of Rondo’s injury and make a late run at the East’s eighth seed. Andre Drummond, though, did provide a spark with 18 points and 18 rebounds in 28 minutes. Since Basketball Reference began keeping records in 1985, the only other teenager with an 18-18 game was Dwight Howard, who did it three times as a 19-year-old.
But even a feat like that is hard to appreciate after a meltdown like the one the Pistons had Tuesday night. After winning six of seven over Christmas and New Year’s, Detroit has gone just 4-6, with two of the wins coming over the hapless Magic.
Rodney Stuckey’s return to the lineup after being benched Sunday in Orlando certainly wasn’t the answer. Stuckey didn’t have a point or an assist in 11 first-half minutes, even though he did score seven points after the game was out of reach.
Stuckey’s moves on and off the active roster have been designed to try to spark a second unit that was the key to Detroit’s holiday hot streak, but has struggled badly in recent games. On Tuesday, even given Drummond’s big night, the Bucks finished with a 59-41 scoring edge off the bench.
“Our second unit’s energy in the second quarter is really what set the tone for us tonight,” said Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan. “Getting that kind of performance from your bench is tremendous, and then what Brandon did in the third quarter? All you can do is say ‘wow’.”
That’s about all the Pistons did after the first 10 minutes — sat back and watched as Milwaukee put up 98 points in the final three periods.
“They definitely outworked us tonight, and when you do that, you change the entire personality of the game,” Frank said. “We got just what we deserved.”