Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
The top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks started their postseason run Sunday with the same fervor that defined their regular season by handing the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons a 121-86 defeat at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum.
The victory gives the Bucks a 1-0 series lead in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. League MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo was, as expected, the most dominant player on the floor with 24 points and 17 rebounds in just 23 minutes on the court.
Meanwhile, Detroit had a glaring absence in the paint, as All-Star forward Blake Griffin sat out because of knee soreness. Without him, guard Luke Kennard played at power forward and led all Pistons with 21 points off the bench.
The Bucks are trying to win their first playoff series since 2001, while the Pistons last advanced beyond the first round in 2008.
Overpowering Bucks Poised to Sweep Pistons in Round 1
Milwaukee finished the 2018-19 regular season with the best record in the NBA for the first time since 1973-74, three seasons after the franchise’s only championship. The Bucks have their eyes set on combining those two feats by claiming an NBA title this season.
And if Game 1 was any indication, hurdling Detroit on their way to doing so will not be a hurdle at all.
The mismatch is blatant on paper, with or without Griffin. The Pistons eked into the postseason with a win over the lowly New York Knicks on the last day of the regular season, while Milwaukee was the first team to clinch a berth all the way back on March 1.
So, a blowout in Game 1 is hardly a surprise.
That said, the Bucks dominated despite The Greek Freak only playing 23 minutes. While Antetokounmpo draws all eyes to Milwaukee, this is a fully fleshed out team alongside him. On Sunday night, all five starters scored in double digits, while two bench contributors also scored 10-plus points.
Kane Pitman @mkebucksaus
Bucks starters minutes (and +/-) tonight:
Eric Bledsoe: 25 (+27)
Sterling Brown: 25 (+38)
Khris Middleton: 25 (+30)
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 23 (+30)
Brook Lopez: 25 (+35)
Eric Nehm @eric_nehm
FINAL: Bucks 121, Pistons 86
– Antetokounmpo 24pts/17reb/4ast (23min)
– Hill 16pts/3reb/2ast (23min)
– Bledsoe 15pts/3reb/5ast (25min)
– Middleton 14pts/5reb/4ast (25min)
The Pistons accentuated how great the Bucks are capable of playing in Game 1. While a healthy Griffin would certainly help matters, Detroit is simply overmatched. This opening series has all the makings to be a quick one, a blip in Milwaukee’s radar.
Even when Detroit had Griffin this regular season, the Bucks swept the series 4-0.
Look for history to repeat itself in this first-round matchup.
Blake Griffin’s Value to Pistons on Full Display in Game 1 Blowout
Gary Dineen/Getty Images
Not only were the Pistons without Griffin, who is listed as day-to-day for this series, but center Andre Drummond earned himself a flagrant-2 foul and subsequent ejection for shoving Antetokounmpo to the ground in the third quarter.
Up to that point, Drummond had 12 points and 12 rebounds. The 25-year-old has been the team’s second-leading scorer (17.3) behind Griffin (24.5) this season, and the Pistons could not afford to lose anybody else in Game 1.
Thirteen different players saw playing time on Sunday night, but it didn’t matter who head coach Dwane Casey threw on the court.
“I knew [Griffin] was a great athlete,” Casey told Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher in a profile published Saturday. “But I went to see him and he had six or seven guys simulating what he’d see handling the ball against different coverages.
“He was trying to replicate situations he’d face for us in the role we had in mind for him as a primary ball-handler and playmaker. His basketball IQ is what struck me. His basketball acumen is off the charts.”
Perhaps Griffin can help the team with his basketball IQ while sidelined, but nothing will surpass the contributions he could make in the actual game. And if it were up to him, according to Rod Beard of the Detroit News, he would have played on Sunday night.
Rod Beard @detnewsRodBeard
#Pistons Blake Griffin said returning from his knee injury is not a pain issue only…sounds more complicated than that, with a lot of people in on the decision to sit him.
Rod Beard @detnewsRodBeard
#Pistons Blake Griffin on sitting out games because of his knee injury: “I have to do what our organization, our training staff, our doctors think is best – and that’s the bottom line.”
Any hesitation by Pistons staff to sit Griffin must have to do with preserving their franchise’s face because there is no hope for the team to upset the Bucks without him. Griffin has averaged a team-leading 35 minutes per game across 75 appearances this season, and he is the most experienced player on the roster with when it comes to the postseason.
Drummond and point guard Reggie Jackson were members of the 2015-16 Pistons, who lost in the first round.
If Griffin’s health is what’s most important, which would certainly be understandable, then this series is also a wrap.
Milwaukee will again host the Pistons for Game 2 on Wednesday. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. ET, and the game will be available to watch on NBATV.