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Jan 21, 2024 2:30 pm

Pistons face big challenges in rematch with Bucks

The Detroit Pistons kept it close against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. If the Pistons want to get a rare victory over the Bucks, however, they’ll have to figure out how to stop Damian Lillard and keep Milwaukee’s stars off the free-throw line on Monday in the second half of a back-to-back between the teams.

Lillard scored a season-high 45 points as the visiting Bucks defeated the Pistons 141-135 on Saturday in Detroit, also the site of Monday’s game

Lillard also supplied 11 assists and six rebounds in his most productive outing since the star guard was acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers prior to the regular season.

“The moment Dame plays like that and is that assertive offensively with the ball, because he has the ball a majority of the time, the whole team follows,” forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “And, Dame is Dame. He’s going to have big quarters, he’s going to have big halves, he’s going to have big games. This was an example of it. We need him to keep on being aggressive. We need him to keep on leading this team.”

Antetokounmpo had 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists on Saturday. The Bucks have won 20 of the past 21 regular-season meetings with the Pistons, including the past eight matchups. They can finish off a sweep of the four-game season series on Monday.

Antetokounmpo, who missed the Bucks’ previous game with a bruised right shoulder, attempted 22 free throws but made only half of them. Lillard knocked down all 16 of his free-throw attempts as the officials awarded Milwaukee 49 shots.

“You’re playing the same team two times in a row, and in the first half they were believing and playing really well and shooting the ball well,” Lillard said. “I knew it was Giannis’ first game back and he was a little winded at times, so I just wanted to be a little more assertive. The ball went in a couple times in the third and I was like, I’m going to keep the foot on the gas and try to stay on the run, and I did.”

Alec Burks led Detroit with 33 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Ausar Thompson had a career-high 22 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, whose 85 bench points was an NBA season high.

Thompson, the team’s lottery pick in June, made 10 of 15 field-goal attempts, including both of his 3-point tries.

“Ausar coming off the bench and knocking down shots was huge for his confidence and huge for the development of our young group,” Pistons coach Monty Williams said.

Detroit also got a boost from veteran forwards Mike Muscala and Danilo Gallinari, who were acquired from Washington on Jan. 14. Muscala drained all four of his 3-pointers while scoring 13 points in 14 minutes. Gallinari added eight points and three assists in 16 minutes.

“Having Gallinari and Mike out there, they’re seamlessly fitting in and figuring out how we play,” Williams said. “Burks has been phenomenal. His ability to score the ball, his ability to communicate and help the young guys on the floor have helped us a ton. You don’t typically get that kind of bench production, but with the vets we have coming off the bench, it certainly helps us.”

–Field Level Media

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