Drummond will miss at least the next four weeks and possibly longer. The injury – a stress fracture of Drummond’s fifth lumbar vertebra – poses no long-term threat, team physician Dr. Benjamin Paolucci said Friday.
As the Pistons digested that distasteful news, they at least left The Palace with a good taste in their mouth – a 119-109 win over San Antonio, playing without Duncan (knee) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring), snapping the Spurs’ 11-game winning streak.
The ripple effects of losing Drummond included extended time for Greg Monroe, who responded with 26 points and 16 rebounds in 40 minutes. Lawrence Frank shortened his rotation, using only Charlie Villanueva up front behind Monroe and Jason Maxiell. Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey were the only perimeter backups to Kyle Singler, Brandon Knight and Jose Calderon.
“He’ll be fine,” Frank said of Drummond, who sat behind the bench in street clothes, smiling and interacting with his teammates as the Pistons tied their season high for points scored. “No one wants to get injured. Any sort of negative situation, you turn into a positive. Andre’s going to be able to work to get stronger and take his time to gain some strength to make sure his back gets healed correctly for the long term.
“We’re going to miss Andre. Andre is a vital part of our present and future, but that’s the name of the game. We move forward, we get him healthy and you go with who you’ve got.”
Monroe’s monster game aside, it was Villanueva who really saw his role change and responded well. He logged 33 minutes and scored 21 points, both season bests, and matched his previous high with eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
“He was great,” Monroe said. “He was doing what he do – knocked down some big shots, made some tough ones, helped out rebounding. With the loss of Dre, a lot of people are going to have to step up, especially the fours and the fives, and tonight Charlie did a great job.”
Frank is prepared to use Slava Kravtsov as the backup to Monroe, but the Spurs – playing without a traditional backup center with Duncan out – didn’t really afford him a matchup opportunity to use the Ukrainian rookie, who played a season-high 11 minutes on Wednesday when Drummond’s back cut his night short after four minutes and Maxiell got into deep foul trouble.
And with Monroe rolling, Frank was going to ride him as long as he could last. A subtle change in Frank’s play calling allowed Monroe to break loose.
“Early on, (Tiago) Splitter had some great post defensive possessions on Greg,” Frank said. “We wanted to move him up in the elbow, so we started to do it, whether it was with the pass or with the pick and roll to try to get some separation. I felt they were on his post game and just wanted to give him a little more space to operate.”
The Pistons played at a faster tempo, coming closer to fitting the ideal Frank sees for a lineup that has added Jose Calderon and now includes four attacking guards. The Pistons compiled 26 assists, including eight – against zero turnovers – from Calderon and five apiece for Monroe and Will Bynum.
“We’re a good team if we can work the pace with me and Kyle (Singler) running the wings, Jose pushing or me pushing,” Knight said. “We can do a pretty good job running the floor and get easy baskets.”
“This is how we have to play,” Frank said. “We have to play an up-tempo game. We’ve got to take advantage of the face we have a two-headed monster at all times. Whoever gets the outlet, go.”
Knight scored 24 points and kept San Antonio’s defense on its heels with his constant movement.
“I just really loved Brandon’s energy today,” Frank said. “The effort he put into the game was huge.”
That was an area of the game where Drummond frequently gave the Pistons a lift over the season’s first 50 games. His teammates are mindful of the need to keep Drummond mentally engaged during his idle time and equally aware of the void he leaves.
“He’s definitely a big part of us,” Knight said. “What he does, even though he’s a first-year player, he helps us out a lot. He’s going to be missed. We wish him a speedy recovery, but we have to do our best to play without him.”
“It’s a huge loss for us, what he brought to the table,” Monroe said. “Everybody knows they have to step up now.”
Knight said he talked to Drummond briefly after he got news of his injury.
“He’s always in good spirits, no matter what’s going on,” he said. “He’s a very positive guy. He’s always going to be good.”