MILWAUKEE — It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment the Detroit Pistons’ spirit broke, they took so many blows.
Dwane Casey’s pregame announcement that Blake Griffin’s knee was “too sore” for him to play in Game 1 of the team’s first-round NBA playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks foreshadowed the debacle that was about to occur. It only got worse when Detroit took the court. Pistons forward Thon Maker — a fan favorite when he played for the Bucks — was booed every time he touched the ball. Milwaukee mounted a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter. Just when it seemed things couldn’t get uglier, Andre Drummond was ejected.
“We picked it up as the game went on,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “But it was too late.”
The Bucks went on to defeat the Pistons 121-85 behind 24 points and 17 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo. All told, the Bucks had seven different double-figure scorers — the most in their last 20 seasons. Antetokounmpo had already posted a double-double by halftime.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer equated the Bucks dominant performance to “built up readiness” after four days without a game.
“I don’t know if they were ready for us,” Antetokounmpo said. “We just tried to focus on ourselves.”
Griffin — dressed in a maroon suit — sat with his hands folded in his lap, watching his team take a lashing on the court in front of him. The Pistons were able to snag the East’s final playoff seed in large part thanks to Griffin. He played in 75 games for Detroit this season — the most games he’s played since the 2013-14 season. In some of them, he appeared to be in a great deal of pain and hobbled up and down the court. Towards the end of the regular season, the miles caught up with him and he sat out four of Detroit’s last seven games.
Even when Griffin did play against the Bucks during the regular season, Milwaukee swept Detroit in the teams’ four meetings. After the game, Casey likened the Pistons without Griffin to the Bucks without Antetokounmpo or the 2016 Cavaliers without LeBron James.
“If it was my decision, I would’ve played” Griffin said.
By halftime, the Bucks had built a 33-point lead. But Milwaukee’s largest lead came moments after Drummond was tossed.
Anetokounmpo had a jaw-dropping dunk from near the free throw line, but minutes late Drummond made sure there wouldn’t be a repeat performance. With just over four minutes left in the third quarter, Antetokounmpo was shoved by Drummond, causing him to fall hard. The foul didn’t seem intentionally malicious, but it clearly had the potential to be dangerous. After a quick review, the referees deemed the push worthy of a flagrant 2, which applies to contact that is deemed both unnecessary and excessive.
Griffin was subsequently issued a technical foul after a discussion of Drummond’s ejection seemed to get heated.
“I have to get an explanation for that,” Casey said of Griffin’s technical.
Drummond refused to answer any questions about the foul that earned him an ejection. In 26:16 before being ejected, Drummond was a -45. That’s the worst plus-minus in the last 20 postseasons according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Drummond is the third player ejected this postseason, joining Golden State forward Kevin Durant and LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, who were ejected after receiving a pair of double technicals for repeatedly jawing at each other
Casey said that he thought the foul should’ve been a flagrant 1 — which applies to unnecessary contact that isn’t deemed excessive — but said he understood that the officials were trying to control the game and set a tone. Budenholzer chalked the shove up to playoff chippiness. The foul was a topic of conversation in the Bucks locker room after the game, but Antetokounmpo said he didn’t fault Drummond.
Antetokounmpo didn’t play a second of the final quarter and the Bucks still won by 35 — Milwaukee’s third largest playoff win in franchise history. When the game was all but over and fans flocked the exits and walked out into the April snow, chanting “Bucks in four! Bucks in four!”