Bucks Bounce Back

Butler’s 30 off the bench beats Pistons as Bucks snap 9-game ski

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

WHITE HOT – Milwaukee broke a nine-game losing streak and won its first game of 2014, coming from behind to beat the Pistons 104-101 as Caron Butler came off the bench to score 30 points. The Pistons led by 13 midway through the third quarter and by 10 with a minute left, but Butler hit back-to-back triples – the last a heave to beat the shot clock – to pull Milwaukee within four headed to the fourth. His jump shot gave Milwaukee the lead for good at 98-97. The Pistons had the ball with six seconds left behind by three points, but Milwaukee fouled to put Josh Smith at the line. He missed both shots. The Pistons had one last try but Rodney Stuckey missed a triple at the buzzer. Brandon Jennings scored 20 points in the first half, including a triple at the buzzer as the Pistons closed the half on a 7-0 run to lead 56-50, and finished with 30.

BLUE COLLAR – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continues to get more comfortable and have a more consistent impact on games without needing to score to do so. The rookie continued his strong January, finishing with nine pints, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Most tellingly, Caldwell-Pope easily led the Pistons in minutes played with 44, playing the entire second half.

RED FLAG – Maurice Cheeks shortened his rotation to eight, using only three players off his bench, but the Pistons need to get more bench production than they got in Milwaukee no matter how deep they go. Rodney Stuckey was terrific – he finished with 23 points - but the Pistons got just two other bench points. Kyle Singler missed all seven of his shots and recorded just one rebound and Will Bynum played just 11 minutes after committing two turnovers in five first-half minutes. Bynum’s only basket was a layup off a nice feed from Greg Monroe.


MILWAUKEE – Knees made Rodney Stuckey and Caron Butler virtual non-factors the last time the Pistons visited Milwaukee, Stuckey limited by tendinitis to one basket and Butler out altogether.

Maybe the Pistons should have offered to hold Stuckey out of Wednesday’s rematch if the Bucks would’ve kept Butler in street clothes again.

And Stuckey was very good, scoring 23 points in 33 minutes as the bulwark of Mo Cheeks’ shortened bench. But Butler was even better, dropping 30 points on the Pistons, including two momentum-swinging 3-pointers late in the third quarter to turn a 10-point Pistons lead into a mere four-point edge that put the game squarely in Milwaukee’s sights.

“He made some big shots,” said Brandon Jennings, who matched Butler’s 30 in his return to the place he spent his first four NBA seasons. “He was definitely carrying the team.”

Until Butler came off Milwaukee’s bench with guns drawn, the game had the feel of one in which the Pistons would get away with playing unevenly, perhaps even lethargically, for much of the first half. A game, in other words, where the better team was going to be able to muster one dominant stretch of basketball and put away a team struggling as the Bucks, 7-33 coming into the night, have struggled all year.

The Pistons might have thought that, too.

“I think so. I think we got a little comfortable,” said Jennings, whose 3-pointer at the midway point of the third quarter gave the Pistons a 76-63 lead. “But it can’t happen. No matter what their record is, that’s still an NBA team over there.”

"It’s tough, you still have to be positive."

- Andre Drummond on the loss
Full game quotes
From that point on, the Bucks outscored the Pistons 41-25. The Pistons were on target for a 122-point night after taking the 13-point lead, but scored just nine points in the second half of the third quarter and 16 in the fourth, when they shot 21 points, had four turnovers and just one assist, and were outrebounded 13-9.

The game came down to simple terms for Maurice Cheeks: Milwaukee’s ability to get to more loose balls. Case in point: Leading by a point with 2:35 to play, John Henson missed two free throws. But the Pistons couldn’t grab the rebound, the Bucks ran the shot clock down under five and the possession ended with Henson scoring on a lob dunk.

“The 50-50 balls were the difference in the game, second shots,” Cheeks said. “We had an opportunity to get a rebound off a foul shot, ended up turning around and it was a big play for them where they got a layup. Those balls we did not get, they were the difference. If you have a discrepancy in that many balls, you’re probably going to lose the game. Sometimes it’s the way the ball bounces. You need to come up with those balls more often than the other team.”

The Pistons had overpowered Milwaukee in that early December visit as the frontcourt of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith combined for 59 points and 42 rebounds. They were well off those levels in Wednesday’s first half, but it looked like halftime awakened them. They quickly forced a Milwaukee 24-second violation and nearly another in the third quarter, when Monroe and Drummond combined for 13 points and Drummond grabbed as many rebounds (six) as Milwaukee’s team.

But Butler’s two triples in the final 38 seconds – the first a second-chance basket after ex-Piston Brandon Knight missed a jump shot, the last one coming as he hurried a shot to beat the shot clock from a long step past the 3-point arc – launched a comeback.

“Definitely it was a momentum changer,” Cheeks said. “That rebound – if we get the ball and probably go into the fourth (ahead) seven, eight points. That allowed them to stay in striking distance and then we had to make a play every time out.”

It probably didn’t help the Pistons’ ability to hold off Milwaukee’s fourth-quarter surge that Cheeks didn’t get much out of his bench beyond Stuckey’s effort. Kyle Singler shot 0 of 7 with one rebound and no assists or steals in 19 minutes and Will Bynum’s only basket was a layup fed him by Greg Monroe over 11 minutes. Cheeks didn’t go past those three, using rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for 44 minutes.

“Brandon played pretty good, so we were going to try to keep him on the floor as much as possible,” Cheeks said. “We rotated our bigs as much as we could, but those are the guys we’ve been playing most of the time so we stayed with those guys.”

It was a deflating way to start the season’s second half for the Pistons, who were 10-10 on the road to stay on the fringe of playoff contention in spite of their 7-14 home record in the first half.

“We’re not good enough of a team to look at somebody’s record at this point right now and be able to just look past somebody,” Smith said. “We have to be able to focus on important details and situations and we have to be students of the game and lock in and do whatever it takes in order to win.”