Ersan Ilyasova had a terrible third quarter.
Sure, he scored 18 of the Bucks’ 40 points in the quarter. Yes, he made all seven of his shots, including a pair of wide-open three-pointers set up by Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. And the Bucks stretched an 11-point halftime lead into a 21-point advantage thanks in large part to Ersan filling the lane on the fast break and rolling to the hoop in the pick-and-roll.
So what was so terrible about Ersan’s third quarter? He drew a charge on Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey and took a nasty blow to the groin. That type of shot always smarts — every single time, no matter what the score is.
Actually, the final score was 108-91.
Larry Sanders started at center and, for the second consecutive game, impacted the outcome with his hustle and his ability to challenge shots. Sanders finished with two points, five blocks, six rebounds, five fouls, and a hand in the face of every Piston who dared drive into the lane. (A perfect Larry Sanders box score, when you really think about it.) When Sanders wasn’t there to contest, Tobias Harris and John Henson (four blocks apiece) were.
Through three quarters, a.k.a, the portion of the game that wasn’t a blowout, the Pistons shot 16-for-37 (43%) in the paint.
The Bucks took a 55-46 lead into halftime. The first half started slowly for the Bucks, who were extremely turnover-prone during the game’s first five minutes. But then the offense settled in, led by Jennings and Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert showed a gentle touch on shots in the paint, while Jennings racked up a quiet-but-wonderfully-efficient 17 points, all of which he scored in the first half.
The Bucks aggressive ball-pursuing, shot-swatting defense frustrated Detroit into misses and turnovers, but it did flash two holes: defensive rebounding and contesting corner three-point attempts. The Pistons had 11 offensive rebounds (against 15 Bucks defensive boards) in the first half. And when the Bucks got caught chasing the ball, the Pistons effective rotated the ball around the perimeter to find wide-open shooters — Kim English, Khris Middleton, and Jonas Jerebko — in the left corner.
The second quarter featured an entertaining back-and-forth highlight exchange between rookies John Henson and Pistons center Andre Drummond. Drummond stonewalled a Tobias Harris drive on one end — leaving Harris on his backside — a flew over Ilyasova for a dunk on the other. Henson flashed a few fancy moves in his own right, including a ‘broken-ankles’ crossover on Drummond and a pair of ridiculous shot-swallowing blocks.
Henson finished with 12 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Unlike last game, he didn’t look lost on offense. He drove to the lane effectively, and finished well when he got there with either hand. On defense, he was nearly the long-armed juggernaut that he replaced in Sanders — but he needs to do a better job blocking out his assignments for defensive rebounds after forcing those misses.
Monta Ellis finished with 11 points. Just as he did in the game against Cleveland, Monta showed 1) a willingness to take the three-pointer from the top of the key, and 2) a knack for swiping the cross-court pass — he swiped two of his three steals this way. Even though he only made one of the four three-pointers, the Bucks can use his long-distance shooting to stretch the floor. Has Monta been sold on the fact that threes are a far more efficient shot than 16-to-23 foot two-point shots? Bucks fans have to hope that the answer is ‘yes’.
The Bucks have been terrific in two games against teams that missed the playoffs last year. Tougher tests await them this week in the Bulls (Tuesday) and Grizzlies (Thursday). Until then, though, it’s hard not to be a little bit excited about what this season may hold.