Playoff series review: Triangle Table. (Featuring new contributors!)

Intro I guess: So I asked a couple of friends who are fellow Pistons fans to answer some questions with me. Attempting to be set up similarly to the 5 on 5 pieces ESPN does sometimes. They are Tom and Peter. (and me) One thing to be clear, is that while I typed mine after seeing theirs, this is not a debate piece. There are some things we disagree on, (some pretty largely) but there was no intention of having a debate in this post. It was just a put down your own thoughts.

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What was the best thing the Pistons did?

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Tom: The best thing the Detroit did against Cleveland, which wasn’t a huge surprise knowing the type of guys they have, was that they didn’t back down from the challenge. On paper, Detroit was overmatched. Cleveland had three of the top four players in the series, a top 7 all-time player, home court advantage, a vastly superior bench unit, and a bevy of intense playoff atmosphere experience. Detroit has none of those of things, yet I truly believed many Piston players expected to win this series.

In reality though, the Pistons weren’t capable of winning this series. They have a few major flaws that burden their efficiency during crunch time. Yet the fact that they all four games were tight in the second half tells you all you need to know. Detroit is a team to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference in the years to come, and that message was sent regardless of whether or not they were able to win a game in this series. Their statement was made through how damn competitive those guys played. Despite being overmatched by superior talent and experience, the Pistons level of fight for all 192 minutes in the series is the biggest positive heading into the offseason.

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Peter: I think the best thing the Pistons did was keep every game competitive. Cavs were heavily the favorites and by far the best team in the East to contend against the powerhouses in the West. Pistons are a very young team with little experience in big games, so the fact that they held their own against the 1 seed in all 4 games was a good sign for their future. As for how they did it, I think first of all was putting KCP on Kyrie Irving was the most important step, but one everyone knew was going to happen before the series started. Anytime they let Andre go one on one in the post was a good thing. Andre’s post game is vastly superior to last years and he showed that he could score consistently throughout the season. Lastly, they spread the scoring load. The Pistons don’t have that one superstar most playoff teams have (Yes Andre was an all-star and will be for years to come, but he isn’t a superstar yet) so the fact that they spread the scoring load meant that the cavs couldn’t key in on one player to shut down our offense.

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Joe: I would say that it was the offensive play of the starting lineup that was the best thing. All season long they have relied on Reggie and Andre running pick and rolls, with Andre sucking in defenders, and Reggie being damn near the only playmaker on the floor. The Cavs took that away in essence, by not allowing Reggie into his favorite spots in the paint, and they still were really effective. Quite frankly if you had told me before the series that the Cavs would successfully trap almost every pick and roll all series I would have expected every game to be a blowout.

And I do mean all the starting 5 here. Reggie was brilliant by not forcing shots and making the right pass and letting his teammates do their things. (Outside of the ends of the games, but that's another thing.) And then the other 4 showed why it can be so lethal to have a starting 5 where each guy can hurt you. In the first 3 games the Cavs (rightfully) sent the most help off of KCP, and he rained in death from deep and with a dribble drive game. When they helped off of Marcus he did the same thing. When the helped off Andre he murdered them in the post. (Quick aside here, a lot has been made of Andre's improvement/not improvement in his post up game. While it certainly has a ways to go, he just averaged 17ppg on almost all post ups.) And then in game 4, when they finally gave Tobias some breathing room, he busted out for a good game. They consistently made the right play to find the open guy, and then that guy consistently finished the play.

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What was the worst thing the Pistons did?

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Tom: I love Stan Van Gundy, and think he has done an amazing job orchestrating the roster to fit his agenda, but I thought he fell short on many fronts from a coaching perspective against Cleveland.

I thought Stan was completely right in removing Drummond directly following the start of Hack-A-Andre sessions. You simply can’t keep him on the court in his current state from the line. Heading into the series I predicted that this would be one of the fatal flaws Detroit would experience, but not to the level it did. What I found perplexing was his substitution tendencies during these situations. I thought Stan relied too heavily on Aaron Baynes (who had a disastrous series on both ends of the floor) in these situations. Options are obviously limited, but I would have much preferred Anthony Tolliver at the 5, or even the super small ball lineup with Morris at the 5, one that I only recalled seeing for a few minutes all series.

Obviously both these lineups will cause leakage on defense, especially on the offensive glass where Tristan Thompson was a man among boys for three out of the four games. But all series I thought that there issue was on the other side of the floor, and the lack of offensive creativity come the last 6 minutes.

With how Cleveland was defending – with hard hedges, aggressive rotations, and baseline traps, it forced Reggie to make quick decisions against an active defense. The issue with Reggie, and I can’t really blame the dude, was the lack of confidence he had in the playmaking ability of his roll-men, Aaron Baynes and Andre Drummond. Neither big man had the awareness, footwork, passing ability, or experience necessary in order to make Cleveland pay for this strategy. And once it became evident that this was the case, which didn’t take long, Reggie started to hesitate making the sensible pass, fearing what Aaron or Andre would do in the uncomfortable position he was about to put them in. This offensive personnel flaw forced Reggie into unforced turnovers, countless dribbles, and loose isolation moves that were easy to guard.

His best rebuttal to the Cleveland defense was finding KCP open when his man was occupied with weak side rotational responsibilities, but that can’t be sustained, and no consistent mode of action was engineered. A smaller lineup that would have put either a knockdown shooter like Tolliver or a more savvy playmaker in Morris in those 1-5 pNr’s should have at least been looked at. And if Cleveland would respond with switching, you would have had Reggie going at Love rather than Thompson, which is a huge difference. Stan never made Cleveland uncomfortable defensively at the end of the games, or found ways to attack Irving and Love’s weaknesses at that end. It wouldn’t have been easy, but the last four minutes of games 3 and 4 became all too predictable.

The other gripe I have with Stan was in regards to his rotation. Way too much Steve Blake, who was taken to school by Delly for four games. I would have liked to have seen SVG stagger his rotations in a way to get Reggie time against Delly, or even activate Lorenzo Brown to play those minutes. Blake’s confidence was waning already, and throwing him into the fire against one of the Cavs emotional leaders was an accident waiting to happen.

Also, it was obvious by the end of game 1 that Stanley Johnson, at a mere 19 years old, was ready for the challenge that is playoff basketball. The fact that the dude wasn’t out there for a minimum of 32 minutes a game was a mistake. SVG, unlike his ultracompetitive players, knew the series was going to end in defeat, and not using this opportunity to fully introduce Stanley to these big games was shortsighted.

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Peter: Let Steve Blake on the team. I’ll admit Steve Blake upped his intensity when he played, but I don’t think he is good enough for any playoff time. He is too slow on offense and defense. Most pg don’t even need a screen to get around him from his slow moving feet and on offense, Steve’s only move is to get a screen and pass the ball off. Steve has decent vision, but he isn’t fast enough to dribble through holes in the defense and take advantage of the openings a screen can give him. I also don’t think they gave Andre enough opportunities to score one on one in the post. They would start off games that way, but would quickly fall away from it. I remember a couple instances where the Cavs would double him and even force a turnover, but if he is going to be a superstar he needs to be able to deal with those.

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Joe: I'm going to lead with Andre's free throws. Just like all season, they are killers because the Pistons need Andre on the floor to be a good team. But that is pretty obvious, so I'm going to pick something else. I also would say Steve Blake/the bench in general (especially Baynes. I was not expecting him to be so badly outplayed) but Tom and Peter already covered that. So I will go with the defense of KCP and of Greater Morris. Even though the eye test (and all season) said that KCP played good defense, the numbers don't really lie, Kyrie killed him a lot. Not all of it was KCP's fault, and Kyrie is one of the best scorers in basketball, but KCP locking down the opposing PG was one of the most consistent things the Pistons had all season long, and it just didn't show up in this series. There were just too many times he got flat out beat. And to be clear, this is, more than anything else, a testament to how highly I have thought of KCP's defensive play this season than it is a knock on him. I was just really hoping for an incredible defensive series, and instead we got Kyrie killing the Pistons at every turn.

With Marcus, it is pretty similar. He has played good defense all year, and has played some really good players really tough. And while obviously, LeBron is LeBron. But there just was not enough fight there. Once again, this is more a testament to how highly I thought of his defense all season than it is a knock on him. But for both him and KCP, I was hoping for better series defensively.

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What was the biggest surprise of the series?

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Tom: The biggest surprise in general was the emergence of the “other guys” for Detroit. KCP was Detroit’s best overall two-way player in the series. His presence on the court alone was big, and SVG must have really contemplated throwing out there for 46 minutes plus a game. His defensive ability goes without saying, with him easily being a top 5 perimeter defender in the NBA. Kyrie put up big numbers, but lots of those came from transition attacks and off the offensive glass. Nothing was easy for him when he was hounded by the quick-footed KCP, who bothered Stephen Curry in a similar fashion during the regular season. What was really positive to see from a Piston perspective was his aggression and confidence in his three point shot. His stroke, especially at critical times, kept games close when they were on the verge of breaking free.

Along with KCP - Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, and Stanley Johnson all showed why the Pistons future is so bright. All four have glaring weaknesses (KCP’s handles, Tobias’ inconsistent shot, Morris’ shot selection, and Stanley’s decision-making), yet those seem insignificant to the benefits they provided on the defensive end. Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond were supposed to be the studs, but were honestly outshined by the next four guys. Their gradual improvement will determine how far this core will be able to go over the next couple years in an improving Eastern Conference. This was a BIG start.

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Peter: I thought the biggest surprise was how many offensive rebounds the pistons gave up. To the cav’s credit, they shot a lot of 3s which means that the ball will bounce out further than a normal shot, giving the offensive team a better chance to recover the ball, but the pistons had the leading rebounder of the league in Andre Drummond.

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Joe: Andre Drummond in the post. Once again, if you had told me that the Cavs would successfully trap almost every pick and roll beyond the 3 point line, I would have figured that Andre was almost a total non-factor on offense. And while it still looks ugly at times for sure, and he must improve some things, the reality is that Andre averaged nearly 17 per game almost totally from the post. I was not expecting that. A close second was how regularly KCP just could not quite stick with Kyrie. Once again, I thought KCP would have an awesome defensive series.

Regardless though, this series was really the first real pay off for the Pistons, both the team and the fans, for all those post ups force fed to Drummond the past 2 seasons. And why you can't just say "Why post up? Just run pick and rolls all day." Because sometimes a team will cut off the pick and roll, and Andre needed to use his post work, and it was a real weapon. Honestly, it is the only thing that gives me hope that he will improve his free throw shooting. Is that when he arrived in the league, he was basically a guy who you didn't want to touch the ball if he could not dunk it from where he was standing, and he has developed into a guy who can actually be a weapon with the ball in his hands, and he is just 22. That takes work, and it gives me hope that he can improve his free throw shooting. (even if it is likely a foolish hope.)

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Was the series a success for the Pistons?

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Tom: Despite all the chances Detroit had to steal a game throughout the series, they should take nothing but positives from it. Winning in the playoffs take time as we all know, and besides Reggie Jackson’s huge game verse Memphis when Westbrook was hurt a couple years back, not one Piston player has had a big playoff moment.

These things take time, as Stan found out in Orlando a decade ago. Overall, the personality of the team is where it needs to be. Their three glaring flaws: Andre’s free throw ability, lack of scoring punch off the bench, and lack of experience all reared their ugly heads as expected. Cleveland has title aspirations and was desperate to get a couple more days off before there battle with Atlanta or Boston, and made sure to end this series as soon as possible.

Detroit could easily battle for one of those top 4 seeds next year, and these competitive playoff games against a superior team will come in handy on that quest.

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Peter: Yes I thought the series was a big success. Before the playoffs started I had the cavs sweeping the Pistons, but I didn’t think the Pistons would have been so close in all 4 games. Giving these young guys playoff experience will leave them hungry to perform better next year and will better equip them to do so.

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Joe: Mostly. Due to the sweep I have some trouble saying it was a full success, they would have needed to turn 1 or 2 of the close games into wins for that. But it is hard to be too disappointed after that. They played the Cavs hard and forced the Cavs to flex some real muscles. And they got the true experience of being in a playoff series. On the plus side, due to still being swept, they probably won't get tons of smoke blown up their asses heading into next season.

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Any Random Additional Thoughts?

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Tom:

  • I went to game 3 and thought the crowd was pretty weak in general, and that was reflected in the sound levels when I watched the game back on ESPN. I don’t know if it is the dimming of the lights in the Palace, their peculiar absence of the expected team T-shirts, or just a recent history of losing, but Pistons fan weren’t as rowdy as I expected.

  • You can’t stop Lebron, you can only slow him down, and Stan knows the formula to accomplish that after watching their eight contests this year. The issue with his formula is that it leaves shooters around LBJ space from the outside, which repeatedly cost them down the stretch of games – most notably from Delly, JR Smith, Love, and Irving.

  • Reggie Jackson’s mission to be assessed a technical foul late in the winnable Game 1 was the most critical play of the series. It essentially showed that Detroit simply wasn’t ready to take the next step. Winning teams don’t do that.

  • Detroit’s future rests largely in the NBA league office, and whether they will switch the intentional fouling rules. Tough to win games when one of your key guys can’t play crunch time, just ask Doc Rivers and Kevin McHale.

  • Tobias Harris’ headband for some reason looks like the biggest one in the league. We need a measurement!

  • The Pistons would probably be all for handing their 6 million to Aaron Baynes next season to fellow Aussie, free-agent-to-be Matthew Dellavadova. Fits the teams personality and fills most glaring need.

  • The no-call on Reggie’s three to win Game 4 was the right call in my mind. Reggie leaned in towards Kyrie a little too much to warrant three shots for a reach-in that was way too close for the Cavs’ comfort. Tough way to end.

  • 52% from the field and 32% from the line for Andre Drummond in the series. Hope the All-Star starting spot and max deal do not cause him to forget far he still needs to go as a player.

  • Still think the Reggie contract was acceptable, but damn did Kyrie teach him some lessons this series. 16% from three point range hurts, many of which were fairly decent looks.

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Peter:

  • Stanley Johnson might want to look at the numbers of the guy he is guarding before making comments to the media.

  • Tobias Harris definitely has the biggest headband in the NBA

  • I hope KCP becomes more known as a lockdown defender and a solid two-way player

  • With a starting lineup of Jackson, kcp, Morris, Harris and Drummond how good can they be? I don’t see an easy way to pick which position could most use an upgrade because they are all solid players. Does this mean our only free agent targets will be bench players?

  • I would’ve liked to see the Pistons make a run at ty Lawson when he became available, he would’ve made up for our loss of Brandon Jennings and would’ve been a major upgrade over Steve Blake.

  • Drummond practices free throws. There are many articles about how he practices a ton and shoots a decent percentage in practice. How can he translate his practice free throws into a game? I think Detroit should very much invest into his free throws, hire a psychologist, hypnotist, anything to get him to perform in games. It is such a handicap to not have your best player on the court at the end of games because he can’t shoot free throws.

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Joe:

  • Andre is an insane defensive player.

  • I was at game 4, and I thought it was pretty dope. I don't know why no T-shirts though.

  • This team is going places.

  • I would not like to change it, but this series did show the weaknesses of the Mobias combo at forward.

  • It also showed the advantages of the Mobias combo. (Marcus lead the team in scoring)

  • Steve Blake was horrible and it was SVG's biggest and most un-defendable decisions all season. It was a fine move to get him at the time. (I even liked it) But it was clear very quickly that he was not really an NBA player anymore. He was so bad that the Cavs ran isolations for Matthew-freaking-Dellevedova.

  • It was a hard matchup for him, but it made me sad to see Baynes be so outclassed. The whole point of splurging a bit on a backup is so that they can play in a hard playoff series. That was disappointing.

  • My one complaint all season came over into the post season. As much as I love him, I wish SVG was willing to be a little more creative with his rotations and lineups.

  • It is the biggest. Because when it comes to headbands, size matters.

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What do you think? Give your own answers! Do you like the other 2 dudes? Should I make sure they come back with some regularity? Would you like more posts like this? Let me know! We all get smarter!

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So about the offseason content? There will be plenty. I will be doing at least a season recap post for every player on the roster+SVG. And for several other topics specifically. (Free agent targets, where Stanley fits long term, trade targets, that sort of thing.) And also could do some more in the style of this. Also before next season starts, there will be a season preview for every player as well. So there will be plenty of stuff to come back here to read, so make sure you do.

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GoFundMeThang: I leave this coming Tuesday! I will be gone until the start of July. If you want to help get more offseason stuff between now and then, go right here.