Pistons get a close look at championship-level focus

The Pistons will enter the summer feeling pretty good about the track they’ve blazed over the past two months of the season and better than that about their future. The defending NBA champions closed out the home game of the 2021-22 season by ensuring the Pistons would suffer no illusions about how far they still have to go.

“It’s a well-oiled machine. They played like a champion team,” Dwane Casey said after Milwaukee’s 131-101 pro win. “They are hitting on all cylinders. You make a small mistake and they charge you for it. That’s what a champion does.

Milwaukee held the Pistons to a season-worst eight points in the first quarter that saw the Bucks lead by 22 on their way to a wire-to-wire victory that leaves the Pistons with only a Sunday final in Philadelphia before kicking off. in what they hope will be a transformative offseason.

The Pistons know there are at least a few intermediate steps to take before they’re ready to entertain the idea of ​​competing for NBA titles, but the Milwaukee layout — in playoff mode and determined to grab the lead in 2 series in the East to secure home-court advantage for at least the first two rounds – they will need to mimic play to get there.

“You go into the locker room, that’s all the youngsters said,” Rodney McGruder said after a career night for him. “They didn’t miss any mission, offensively or defensively. One guy was open, they got the ball – on time, on target. This is the level we want to get to. Playing a championship contender like that, you learn so much.

The Pistons have gone 11-13 since mid-February despite playing without key players for much of the past two weeks and have been competitive in almost every loss. Wednesday’s 18-point loss at the hands of Dallas was one of only two double-digit losses and the average 12-game losing margin heading into Friday was 6.5 points.

So Casey doesn’t want the Pistons to forget the ruthlessness with which Milwaukee went about his business on Friday, but he also doesn’t want his team to dismiss everything they’ve done over the past few months.

“It’s not about winning and losing right now. We’re playing 10-day guys that we’re trying to watch well,” he said. “It’s about our minds. Let’s not lose our confidence let’s not let this game tonight get us down We could play this game 10 times and it would be difficult The way they are playing right now I want to be realistic and real with our players is our spirit.

The Pistons were without Jerami Grant, Cory Joseph, Marvin Bagley III and Hamidou Diallo and gave big minutes to recently signed Braxton Key and Carsen Edwards. They tied their season-high with 48 3-pointers but only managed 10. McGruder scored 14 points in the first half, leading a rally that saw the Pistons reduce the initial 22-point deficit to eight, and he finished with a career-high 26 points in 24 minutes, making 9-of-11 shooting and 4-of-5 3-pointers. McGruder’s teammates shot 6 of 43 from the arc.

“We missed a lot of open shots,” Casey said. “Their defense sped us up a bit. It’s a championship caliber team that we’re up against.

The Pistons realized they weren’t in that class before Friday’s game, but getting a glimpse of them up close was a revelation.

“It was a great measurement tool for us,” Casey said. “It was one of the first problems we’ve had since the All-Star break. We understand where we are and who they are. We just want to finish with the right spirit and not let these last two games distort what we did and who we are.