Drummond takes the game in his hands – and that works out pretty well for the Pistons

Andre Drummond made several big plays in the final two minutes as the Pistons came from behind to beat Toronto and sweep the season series for the Raptors
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The game and the basketball’s ultimate disposition were one and the same – they both wound up in Andre Drummond’s hands. Worked out pretty well for the Pistons.

Until the final two minutes of Sunday’s 110-107 win over Toronto – giving Dwane Casey a 3-0 season sweep of the team that saw fit to fire him even as he was picking up Coach of the Year awards last spring – it was a fairly routine Drummond game. Marc Gasol has made life tough on opposing centers for a decade and he was battling Drummond to a standoff, more or less.

But with the game tied at 100, Drummond made a string of game-altering plays. First he left Gasol to meet Kawhi Leonard at the rim, forcing a contested missed layup and coming away with the rebound. At the other end, he stepped to the line after drawing a Gasol foul with 1:25 to play and knocked down two free throws, making him 21 of 25 this season in what the NBA terms “clutch situations” – the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the game within five points.

For a guy who two seasons ago shot .386 at the line, was the frequent target of intentional fouling and couldn’t be trusted to be on the floor because of it in critical moments, it’s quite the turnaround.

“Everybody knows the struggles I went through coming into my career with the free throws and how much work I put into it,” said Drummond, who went 5 of 5 at the line and is shooting .586 for the season. “How many people made fun of me for not being able to stay in the games, this and that. Now I’m at a point where I can stay in the entire game and be able to knock down big-time shots.”

He wasn’t done yet, though his free throws gave the Pistons the lead for good. Fourteen seconds after making his free throws, Drummond anticipated Fred VanVleet’s post entry pass to Leonard, knocked it loose, saved it along the sideline, dribbled downcourt and made the perfect pass to Wayne Ellington for a layup and a four-point lead with 1:07 to go.

It was a risky play – miss the steal and Leonard turns against an overmatched defender without Drummond to protect the rim – but one a player with Drummond’s quick hands and instincts can afford to take in the right situations.

“We have a saying. ‘If you gamble, you better get it,’ ” Blake Griffin said. “And he got it. It was a good play. It was very heads up.”

So was the pass, which perhaps above all other big plays showed Drummond’s growth.

“That’s how he has grown as a player,” Casey said. “Early in the season, he probably would’ve run over the guy and still thrown it up in the stands. He did a great job being under control.”

The win puts the Pistons at 36-33 with 13 games left. They ensured they’d end the day still in the No. 6 playoff position with Brooklyn, 36-35, playing at the Los Angeles Clippers late. Miami, which beat Charlotte, remains three games back of the Pistons in the No. 8 spot.

For all of Drummond’s big plays to close out the win – not secured until Drummond ripped off his 17th rebound when Leonard intentionally missed a free throw with 1.4 seconds left in hopes the Raptors would grab the miss and get off a tying 3-pointer – the Pistons had to display no small amount of resourcefulness and persistence to be in position to benefit from his heroics.

The Raptors hit 18 of 36 from the 3-point line – despite the absence of their most prolific 3-point shooter, Kyle Lowry – and outscored the Pistons 54-24 from the arc.

Leonard hit 5 of 8, VanVleet – back after being out since early February with a thumb injury – 4 of 5 and Danny Green – and watch out for a guy named Danny Green on St. Patrick’s Day – 4 of 8.

“How many did they have?” asked Griffin, who led the Pistons with 25 points, before being told it was 18. “Wow. It just means that we dominated in other areas. The 3-point line is always a big point of emphasis for us, but so is transition D and so is forcing them to take the shots that we want them to take and defending the basket and I thought we did a pretty good job of doing that. Sometimes there’s games where you have to be willing, if they beat you from certain areas, you live with it. And tonight, fortunately, we got away with one of those.”

Among the areas where the Pistons made up for the 30-point deficit from the 3-point arc were free throws, where they were 24 of 27 and outscored the Raptors by 13; bench production, where Casey’s second unit won the battle in each half; and turnovers, where they led Toronto in points produced off of them 15-4 – none bigger than the two Drummond gifted them with his steal and on-the-move assist to Ellington.

Those aren’t typically the plays you’d expect in the last two minutes of Drummond, who’s impact is usually felt in offensive rebounding or lob dunks or blocked shots.

“I thought it was luck,” Griffin deadpanned as Drummond mugged behind him in the locker room. “St. Patrick’s Day. He had some green on.”

Then he turned serious.

“He’s done stuff like that all year. I always say this, but his effect on the game goes well beyond the stat sheet. He’s the epitome of that. I think the guys in the locker room, he knows that we appreciate that. It’s a selfless thing to do, those types of things.”

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