A Glimpse of the Future
OKLAHOMA CITY – If the Pistons are as right about Andre Drummond as they fully believe, then you might want to mark down the date and time that their next generation was launched: With 2:51 left in the third quarter on Nov. 9, 2012, Lawrence Frank sent Greg Monroe in for Jason Maxiell, pairing Monroe with Andre Drummond for the first time in a regular-season NBA game.
The Pistons were 12 points behind the reigning Western Conference champions at the time. They immediately went on a 9-0 run, Monroe’s keen passing eye finding Drummond for consecutive layups and Drummond’s athleticism producing a steal that created a dunk for Monroe.
A rash of early fourth-quarter turnovers robbed the Pistons of their chance for a major upset against a team with perhaps the best home-court advantage in the NBA, but they made the Thunder sweat in a 105-94 game in which Drummond will cause buzzing around NBA front offices. His 22 points were a career high and he added eight rebounds, a block and a steal while also hitting 6 of 9 free throws.
“I thought Andre was great,” Lawrence Frank said as the Pistons slid to 0-6 with their fifth consecutive road game. “Andre was really, really good. Very, very active, stayed with it. Greg and Andre together, that’s what sparked that stretch where we showed some pretty good resolve.”
“I’m not really worried about who I play with or how much time I play,” Drummond said. “I’m just worried about winning basketball games. That’s what it really boils down to. Yeah, it’s great playing alongside Greg, if that’s what a lot of people want to see – how it will work between us. But the bigger picture is winning basketball games.”
To that end, the Pistons gave themselves a shot. They held the high-scoring Thunder to 26 percent shooting in the first quarter to avoid the disastrous start that has undermined them in previous starts against power teams – against the Lakers earlier this week and against the Heat in the preseason. They won the rebounding battle (41-38) for the first time this season and had more points in the paint, second-chance points and fast-break points than OKC, losing mostly because the Thunder simply made more open jump shots and finished at the rim with greater efficiency.
“When you lose, it’s a loss, but the first quarter, the effort our guys gave was tremendous. The defense effort was super,” Frank said. “The game came down to the second and fourth quarters – turnovers – and our inability to finish at the rim at crucial times.”
Drummond became the first Piston rookie to lead the team in scoring off the bench since Monroe did it early in his rookie season. Tayshaun Prince added 16 points and six boards, Rodney Stuckey 15 points, Monroe 14 points to go with 10 boards, six assists and three blocks and Brandon Knight 11 points, six assists and six rebounds.
After the early avalanche of fourth-quarter turnovers enabled the Thunder to take a 16-point lead, Drummond helped the Pistons cut it back to nine with three minutes left when he drained a pair of free throws, among the six in nine tries he made, another eye-opening result for a player who shot 29 percent in his one college season.
“He was doing what he was supposed to do tonight,” Monroe said of his 19-year-old teammate. “He was on the glass, finishing at the rim real strong, getting easy buckets, playing off our teammates. Any time he gets the ball around the rim, he’s more than likely going to score. He did a good job of letting the game come to him tonight. He finished, made his free throws – I definitely think he played really well tonight.”
Frank decided before the game it was time to pair Drummond and Monroe, at least for a brief stretch, to see what he had.
“We were going to look at it because we’ve got to continue to find different answers,” he said. “We had different reasons for not doing it before and it’s not going to be (22) and eight (every game). We know that. But for the first time in a regular-season game in a really good environment, it’s really nice to see how Andre responded. There are things we can build on and we have a lot of work to do.”
Kevin Durant scored 25 for Oklahoma City and Serge Ibaka matched it, his career high, but the Pistons held the explosive Russell Westbrook well within check as he finished with 10 points.
The Pistons wrap up their six-game road trip Saturday night in Houston, then turn around and host Oklahoma City on Monday. Pretty good chance the Thunder – and the home crowd at The Palace – will get another glimpse of the future, of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond together, again … and again and again.