Topped by Toronto
Pistons rally comes up short despite big games for Drummond, Monroe
That’s when the Pistons outscored Toronto 37-24, atoning for a porous defensive first quarter precipitated by foul trouble that sidelined both Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe for the bulk of it.
But there they were, Drummond and Monroe, leading the charge after halftime as the Pistons chewed up all that ground they lost in the first half to actually take a lead. Monroe used all the tools in his offensive belt, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Drummond has had louder statistical quarters, for sure, than the two points and four rebounds, but his presence was felt everywhere along the 94-foot continuum of The Palace court – from the one-handed bullet pass from 30 feet out to Kyle Singler for a dunk to the swatting of 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas’ hook shot into the expensive seats.
Monroe finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds, Drummond 14 points to go with 17 boards, three blocks, two steals and two assists.
If you want to talk franchise building blocks 23 or under, there aren’t a lot of teams that can match Drummond and Monroe.
“I think, overall, we have a quality team as is,” said Singler, who fills out the starting frontcourt these days now that Josh Smith has missed the past four games with knee tendinitis. “I don’t know, necessarily, the formula to win, but we just weren’t able to get into a groove earlier in the year to gain confidence and know that we’re a playoff team. But I do believe we have the right pieces in play to be a playoff team.”
"My message is we’ll be better next year and that’s my vision."- Kyle Singler on next season
Full game quotes
Monroe’s 23 points Sunday came on just 13 shots, his 13 third-quarter points requiring just four shots – all makes. Drummond, meanwhile, is finishing his second season with Chamberlainesque numbers: 18.7 points and 18.7 rebounds a game over his last six.
“My first year was a year for me to learn and pick people’s brains and get better as a man and as a player,” he said. “I feel this year, I stepped up a little bit, being a leader, and I got better at being vocal and I’ll show it with my game. I’ll be a leader.”
Drummond has improved by leaps and bounds, not least of his accomplishments being his ability to maintain his wildly efficient numbers while virtually doubling playing time over his rookie year. He showed off a few dazzling post moves Sunday, scoring with a hook set up by a lightning-quick pivot once over Valanciunas and then burying a shoulder in his chest later in the game and overpowering Valanciunas for another soft hook shot.
“He has developed a good inside game now,” John Loyer said. “He’s got a couple of nice post moves. If you watch the tape from last year and watch the tape from this year, the guy’s making huge strides. The guy really cares about playing. He’s a pleasure to coach and you’ve got an inside presence like that, it’s only going to get better. He’s got a bright future.”
And, because of Drummond and what his presence can mean in tandem with Monroe, so do the Pistons, though they’ll be the first to admit there’s work to be done.
They finished their home season 17-24, toxic to playoff chances. They struggle with closing out games, still needing to find their identity. Toronto came from nowhere to win home-court advantage in this year’s first round because the Raptors forged a new identity this year. That was on display in the fourth quarter, when the Raptors outscored the Pistons 22-12 in the closing minutes. In the second half, Toronto’s backcourt of Kyle Lowry (28 points, seven assists despite fouling out with nearly six minutes to play) and DeMar DeRozan (30 points) combined to score 34 points.
And with the game on the line, the Raptors put it on the shoulders of DeRozan, a first-year All-Star. He scored 14 points, hitting some highlight-reel shots including a high-arching triple with Singler in his face.
“I thought he made a couple (difficult shots) and Lowry prior to that made some tough shots,” Loyer said. “I couldn’t fault our defense on two or three of those. He made big shots. That’s what an All-Star player does.”
The Pistons see All-Star futures for Drummond and Monroe. When that day arrives, as Toronto exemplifies, the turnaround can come in a hurry.
“Everybody knows I can’t stand losing,” Drummond said. “I hate it with a passion. It’s something I don’t want to get used to. I’m going to take this summer to get better as a player and find ways to help my team out.”