Drummond’s dominance can’t carry Pistons to 4-0 start as bench sputters in loss to Pacers

Andre Drummond had a performance that lumps him in with the likes of the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and one of the most dominant rebounders and defenders of his generation, Ben Wallace.

He put up 25 points and 29 rebounds, making it consecutive 20-20 games and four straight double-doubles to open his fourth season. Abdul-Jabbar was the last player with two 20-20 games among his team’s first four. Wallace was the last Pistons player to record four straight double-doubles to begin a season. In the NBA over the course of Drummond’s career, he has as many 25-25 games – two – as everyone else combined.

So why was he so decidedly terse and morose when it was over, sitting slumped in front of his locker for more than 30 minutes before taking questions?

“We lost,” he said.

The Pistons couldn’t make it a perfect 4-0 start for a few reasons – their defense wasn’t as sharp or focused as the previous three games and they were sloppy in committing 20 turnovers through three quarters and 23 for the game.

But they very well might have survived all of that – plus their third straight sub-40 percent shooting performance – if not for a blindingly bad stretch of basketball to start the second quarter. It came about with Stan Van Gundy’s second unit on the floor almost entirely – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started the quarter with reserves Steve Blake, Aron Baynes, Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver, but came out 66 seconds later for Reggie Bullock.

And by the time Van Gundy came back with most of his starters – Caldwell-Pope, Drummond, Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson – Indiana had scored 20 points while holding the Pistons scoreless. A six-point lead was suddenly a 14-point deficit in just 4:47 of playing time.

“The 20-0 run was the deal in the game,” Van Gundy said. “We’re up 30-24 at the end of the first quarter and they go on a 20-0 run. I mean, that was it right there.”

Indiana scored on nine of 10 possessions. The Pacers weren’t exactly getting dunks and layups at will, but they were finding wide-open shooters who drained shots from 21, 21, 20, 17, 17, 25 and 25 feet – an amazing shooting display, granted, but the type of shots that professional players are going to make more often than not when unguarded.

“Those don’t happen too often when it’s just a perfect storm, I’ll call it, where they’re hitting everything and we’re missing everything and turning it over,” Tolliver said. “That doesn’t happen very often. Most of the time you get through that by just playing harder than the other team and we weren’t able to do that. That was the big difference in the game right there. Unfortunately, it cost us the game.”

On offense, the Pistons missed seven straight shots and turned the ball over on their three other possessions. Van Gundy called two timeouts to try to bolster a bursting dam. Nothing worked.

Back came the starters, who quickly cut their 14-point deficit in half. But the Pacers spurted in the final minute of the quarter to regain a 12-point lead. It never got to single digits in the second half, though the Pistons appeared on the charge when they were down 13 with nine minutes to play and ex-Piston Rodney Stuckey – brilliant with 23 points in 26 minutes off Indiana’s bench – committed a flagrant foul on Johnson.

But the rookie – 5 for 5 at the line coming into the game – missed both shots, then Tolliver missed an open 3-pointer, then Stuckey drained a short jump shot and the Pacers had dodged a bullet.

“I really thought that was the last gasp,” Van Gundy said.

Stuckey’s big night made the struggles of Detroit’s second unit that much more glaring. Indiana’s bench outscored the Pistons’ second unit 43-2. Pistons reserves shot 1 of 12 and committed seven turnovers in a combined 47 minutes with just four rebounds and three assists.

“Today was bad overall,” Johnson said. “Our second group came in and stunk it up the worst. Put that a lot on myself. It’s my job to come in with the second group and make something happen and that didn’t happen and we lost.”

Van Gundy not only tightened the rotation to eight in the second half – skipping Bullock and Baynes entirely, meaning Drummond went all 24 minutes after halftime and 43 for the night – he gave Spencer Dinwiddie the reins at point guard when Blake committed three turnovers and two fouls in less than seven first-half minutes.

“I went away from them as quick as I could,” Van Gundy said. “But we need to play better. It wasn’t just them. We didn’t defend. We didn’t guard for three quarters. We had one guy play well. I didn’t think we competed hard defensively and you’re not going to win with 23 turnovers.”

Even when Andre Drummond is putting up numbers that harken Hall of Famers and all-time Pistons greats.

“He was the one guy who really played well tonight,” Van Gundy said. “That’s why we just sort of rode him the whole time. He had a really, really good performance.”