Blake Griffin’s return, 27 points can’t save Pistons
DETROIT (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks know they are often considered a one-man team.
Saturday night, they took some major steps toward changing that perception.
On a night where Giannis Antetokounmpo was limited by foul trouble, the Bucks had seven players score in double figures and beat the Detroit Pistons 119-103 to take a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.
“That’s something we’ve been working on all year,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We play together and take what the opponent gives us. It isn’t all about Giannis, as great and amazing as he is. We have a lot of guys who can make plays and Giannis knows when to step back and let them carry the load.”
The Bucks can finish off the Eastern Conference series Monday night in Detroit after winning the first three games by an average of 24 points.
The Bucks overcame 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists from Blake Griffin in his return from a right knee injury. He missed the first two games of the series after sitting out four of the final six in the regular season.
“That young man is giving us everything his body will give, and we need every bit of it,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “He has a presence that no one else on our team can provide.”
Griffin had an immediate defensive impact, forcing two turnovers on Milwaukee’s first three possessions, but struggled to keep up in transition.
“I don’t know what percentage I’m at. I don’t really worry about things like that,” he said. “If I can play, I’m going to play
Antetokounmpo had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 20, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez each had 19, and Lopez added seven rebounds and five blocks. Ersan Ilysaova (15), Nikola Mirotic (12) and George Hill (11) all reached double figures as part of the second unit.
“They came out strong in the first quarter and then Ersan came in and hit three straight threes to give us a lead,” Middleton said. “That let us relax and play our own game.”
Andre Drummond had 12 points and 12 rebounds, struggling with his own foul trouble. He missed eight of his first nine field-goal attempts.
“I think Andre missed some bunnies and it bothered him,” Casey said. “He took that to the other end of the floor and missed some assignments on defense. He’s still learning how everything is magnified in the pressure of the playoffs.”
Drummond picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, but Antetokounmpo left a minute later with his fourth.
Middleton, playing against the team that drafted him in 2012, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Milwaukee an 85-66 lead with 4:47 left in the third quarter. Drummond returned late in the quarter, but picked up his fifth foul after just 41 seconds.
“I thought they guys were amazing, especially after I got my fourth foul,” Antetokounmpo said. “Khris did a great job of guiding the team and making the right plays. It’s good to see us winning a playoff game on the road when I’m not having my best game.”
The margin was 100-78 at quarter’s end and the Pistons never put together a serious run in the fourth.
“I think we definitely need some rest after Game 4, but we’re trying not to think about that,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’re going to come in, be hungry and try to win that game. It’s going to be a nice feeling — I’ve never won a playoff series.”
Bucks: The Bucks hadn’t won the first three games of a playoff series since a three-game sweep of the New Jersey Nets in the 1986 first round. … Milwaukee was a plus-23 in the 10:48 that George Hill played in the first half.
Pistons: The game was the first postseason game in Little Caesars Arena history. The Pistons and Red Wings both missed the playoffs in 2017-18 and the Red Wings missed again this season. The most recent NBA playoff game in the city of Detroit was April 27, 1985, when the Pistons lost 127-123 to the New York Knicks at Joe Louis Arena after damage to the Pontiac Silverdome’s roof.
MATCHING AN UNPLEASANT MARK
The loss was Detroit’s 13th straight in the playoffs, tying the NBA record set by the New York Knicks between 2001-12. The Pistons lost the last two games of the 2008 Eastern Conference finals to the Boston Celtics, were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round in 2009 and again in 2016 and have now lost three in a row to Milwaukee. Their last postseason win came over Boston on May 26, 2008.
Game 4 is Monday night at Detroit.