AUBURN HILLS, MI — The Milwaukee Bucks put together a roster this year that was supposed to be a young, up-and-coming power in the Eastern Conference.
So far, they’ve only succeeded in being young.
Friday, the Bucks had a chance to get a second win over the equally young Detroit Pistons, a team they’d beaten 109-88 on Nov. 23 in Milwaukee. Instead, Jason Kidd’s team never led in a 102-95 defeat that dropped them to 7-13 and deeper into the Central Division cellar.
They spent almost the entire 48 minutes trailing by between four and eight points – the Pistons never threatened to blow them out – but could never hit enough jump shots to get the game back to even.
“We had too many empty possessions,” Kidd said. “We had it within six in the last few minutes, but we didn’t score the next three times we had the ball. We had a couple shots go in and out, but we’ve got to find a way to put the ball in the basket in those situations.”
Surprisingly, Kidd didn’t go with the strategy that’s plagued the Pistons over the last week – intentionally fouling Andre Drummond. Kidd said before the game that he wasn’t a big believer in turning games into a free throw parade, and he was true to his word.
It’s a questionable strategy most times, because if the fouled player can consistently make 50 percent of the free throws, the team fouling isn’t likely to gain much ground.
However, that’s not the case with Drummond. He’s the worst free throw shooter in NBA history, hitting just 39.3 percent from the line, and he’s in a horrific slump even by his own low standards. In the last three games, all of which saw him intentionally fouled on a consistent basis, he went 12-for-46.
He wasn’t any better against the Bucks, hitting three of 10 from the line, but while Stan Van Gundy kept Aron Baynes ready to go, Kidd played his defense straight up. The only times that the Bucks tried to intentionally foul Drummond were when he touched the ball in the final moments.
“At the very end, we tried to do it, but the refs didn’t call the first one, and we didn’t execute the second time,” he said.
The strategy has provided benefits on both ends of the floor for the Nets, Rockets and Suns, who started fouling Drummond as early as the second quarter. Not only was it holding Detroit to a half-point per possession on offense, it forced Van Gundy to pull him out of the game.
Considering Drummond finished with 23 rebounds – his fifth 20-rebound game of the season, while the rest of the NBA has combined for three – having Baynes on the floor while adjusting to the mask for his broken nose couldn’t have hurt Milwaukee’s chances.
The other problem was that, unlike the first game in Milwaukee, Drummond badly outplayed his former teammate, Greg Monroe. Monroe finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds after getting booed during the pre-game introductions.
“It was good to be back for the first time, and to see people again, but we came here to win the game,” Monroe said. “That was really my only focus.”
Instead, the Bucks struggled to get anything going against a Pistons defense that hasn’t been playing well. Things got worse when Jerryd Bayless left the game in the third quarter with a sprained ankle. With Greivis Vasquez already sidelined with an ankle problem, the Bucks had to finish the game with struggling Michael Carter-Williams and out-of-position O.J. Mayo at the point.
“That was a struggle, and we’re not going to have Jerryd or Greivis tomorrow against the Knicks, so we’re going to have to move some things around,” Kidd said. “We don’t have a natural point guard, but we have a lot of guys who want to shoot the ball, so I’m sure they will volunteer to get on the floor.”