The post game in the modern NBA has become something of a punch line, a fool’s errand, a wasted effort. This is the era of pace-and-space; of putting five 6-foot-6 guys on the floor and raining 3-pointers until the cows come home.
Only a simple-minded rube could believe that the post offense could still dominate an NBA game in 2019... right? That was the question Wizards fans must have been worriedly asking themselves as Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond decimated the Wizards for 63 combined points, many acquired with their backs to the basket, in a hugely important 121-112 Pistons win on Wednesday night.
Detroit outscored Washington in the paint 56-40, including a 22-8 advantage in the first quarter. The Pistons also dominated the boards, outrebounding the Wizards 48-37. Bradley Beal and the Wizards shot fairly well on the night, hitting half of their field goal attempts and 36 percent of their 3-pointers, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with Detroit’s archaic attack.
Washington’s loss betrayed solid performances from Beal (32 points, 10 assists) and Trevor Ariza (23 points on 10-of-14 shooting). For Detroit, Griffin tacked nine assists on to his impressive line and Luke Kennard added 15 points off the bench.
The difference between the two squads was blatant from the opening tip — 22 of Detroit’s first 27 points came from inside the paint, where Griffin and Drummond completely dominated Washington. The two combined for 19 first-quarter points exclusively on 2-pointers and free throws. The Wizards, on the other hand, operated almost entirely outside the paint. They tried to spread the floor and did so with limited success early — only 8 of Washington’s 27 first-quarter points came from within the paint, and they trailed 36-27 after one.
In the second, a promising Wizards bench unit continued its emergence. Facing a deficit, the group centered around Jordan McRae and new frontcourt additions Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis fought their way back into the game inch-by-inch. The reserves kept Detroit’s big men away from the rim and a timely 10-point burst from McRae put the Wizards out in front. Detroit’s starters punched back, but by halftime the Wizards had cut a once-double-digit lead to just 61-59.
Detroit rebounded hard — literally — in the third though, quickly stretching their lead back out to 10 points. As much as the Wizards tried to get things going on the defensive end, they couldn’t get enough stops to stay in the game. Detroit held a firm lead for most of the third quarter in large part because of Griffin’s passing out of the post. After Griffin’s early scoring push, Washington sent a variety of different double teams and switches at the playmaking big man — yet not one appeared to fool him. He deftly kicked the ball out to open shooters again and again, neutralizing every strategy the Wizards employed to slow him down.
In the fourth, Washington’s offense came back to life, but it was simply too late. Scott Brooks kept Thomas Bryant on the bench for the final 12 minutes, opting instead to go small and try to shoot back into the game. Washington mustered 33 points in the period, but it still wasn’t enough to overcome Detroit’s lead. The Pistons walked away with a significant victory for their playoff hopes, winning 121-112.
Bench Stays Solid
Bobby Portis had another great night, shooting 9-of-17 from the field for 24 points and six (!) 3-pointers. Portis’ defense was far less than stellar, but his performance helped the bench pull the game back within reach on multiple occasions. Jabari Parker struggled to get his shot going in this one (he did not score), but he finished with a team-high plus-seven in his 20 minutes.
Ian May Be Gone
Put it this way: If Ian Mahinmi couldn’t find playing time on a night when Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond brutalized the Wizards for 63 combined points, it seems unlikely he’ll see the floor again this season. Thomas Bryant played just 17 due to defensive struggles, but Bobby Portis played virtually all of the back-up center minutes on the night. Mahinmi’s complete disappearance isn’t exactly a surprise, but it is yet another reminder of what a devastating signing that was and has been.
Painful Playoff Push Ahead
Washington entered the day just two games behind Detroit for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, with a prime chance to make gains in the standings. But with the loss, Washington’s playoff push becomes even harder — they’ve now lost the season series with Detroit and will not have the tiebreaker should the teams end with the same record.
So despite being just three games back of the Pistons, the reality is that Washington must outperform Detroit by four games the rest of the way to have a decent shot at making the playoffs. Given how this team has performed against real competition, it’s difficult to see that happening. Oh — and here, take this:
Tonight’s loss guarantees the Wizards will not reach 50 wins. This will be the 40th consecutive season the Wizards will not reach 50 wins.— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) February 12, 2019
Next up: The Wizards will take a flight out of the country to play the Raptors in Toronto on Wednesday at 7:30 pm Eastern Time.