While the Houston Rockets employed a star-studded backcourt in recent years with James Harden and Chris Paul (and now, a Harden-Russell Westbrook reunion), the Detroit Pistons also desired to have two superstars.
Despite the overwhelming and obvious evidence that basketball was evolving into a more perimeter-driven and guard-driven game, the Pistons wanted their stars in the frontcourt and not the backcourt.
Detroit traded for Blake Griffin in January 2018 to pair him alongside center Andre Drummond only to pull the rug out from under their All-Star, who spent his first seven-and-a-half NBA seasons in the Motor City last month.
Here are Wednesday’s Takeaways from OKC’s 114-107 win:
1. Sleepwalking On The Road Nearly Got The Thunder In Trouble Again
Wednesday’s game was reminiscent of the Thunder’s win at Chicago last week.
They faced an opponent who couldn’t match them skill-for-skill but played relaxed enough to potentially give the game away.
The Thunder did not have to contend with Drummond, Griffin (out since January due to knee surgery) or Derrick Rose (his own injury) on Wednesday.
Conventional wisdom suggested the Pistons offense would fall apart. It did not.
OKC led by 13 in the fourth quarter, but Detroit charged back to take a lead on a Svi Mykhailiuk 3-pointer with four and a half minutes to go. Svi’s three capped a 14-2 Pistons run. Detroit made 18 3-pointers in total.
Those are dispiriting figures for the Thunder, yet they somehow found a way to win.
But they had some help because…
2. Detroit’s Defense Was Incredibly Bad
I kept an unofficial tally during a portion of the game just to see how often the Pistons failed to step up and play defense on the three-point line.
During this particular stretch, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a wide-open 3-pointer. Luguentz Dort nailed a wide-open 3-pointer. Chris Paul casually dribbled the ball up the court on a semi-fast break and made a pull-up 3-pointer. Even Dennis Schroder made a 3-pointer as Pistons guard Brandon Knight was slow to close out.
All four of these Thunder 3-pointers happened in the first quarter.
Detroit’s defense was so pitiful that the perimeter-happy Terrence Ferguson thought it’d be best to drive in for an easy layup. Ferguson did so uncontested.
3. Jordan McRae Had Quite A Day
After Jordan McRae was released by Denver, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that McRae was claimed off waivers by Detroit on Wednesday.
Hours later, McRae checked in for the first time as a Piston and made an immediate impact.
First, the good: McRae led all Detroit reserves with 15 points, three assists and two rebounds in 26 minutes.
Now, the not-so-good: With the Pistons down 108-107 and under a minute to play, McRae forced up an awkward shot over Danilo Gallinari that bounced off the heel of the rim.
Gallinari then knocked down a 3-pointer to end the late-game drama on the Thunder’s next possession.
Oklahoma City’s next game on their three-game road trip won’t be difficult, but it will be dramatic. The Thunder will face the New York Knicks Friday night at Madison Square Garden.