Minus Drummond, Pistons battle but get buried by Miami’s avalanche of triples
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MIAMI – Avery Bradley returned, surely a boost to the Pistons defense, but for the first time since he left the only NBA home he’d ever known, Boston, since being drafted in 2010 he lined up without Andre Drummond having his back.
And while Drummond wouldn’t have been at the 3-point line to prevent Miami from launching 34 bombs – and connecting on exactly half of them, the Heat’s 17 triples tying the season high for any Pistons opponent in the season’s first 36 games – he would have been smothering the pick and rolls and in the paint dissuading the penetration that created the vast majority of those triples that undid the Pistons in a 111-104 loss that went down to the final minute.
“What Andre’s able to bring for us on the defensive end, I think he is the best big man in pick-and-roll defense in the NBA,” Bradley said. “It was tough. We still had a chance to help each other and talk on the defensive end because that’s what it’s all about. But we did miss him on both ends of the floor tonight.”
Drummond sat out after taking a shot to the ribs in Tuesday’s practice. The injury isn’t expected to cost him much time – “it’s just a pain-tolerance thing,” Stan Van Gundy said – but it was another blow to the Pistons on top of injuries to Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson and Jon Leuer, each of whom would have had a significant role against Miami.
Leuer would have been the guy most likely to match up against Kelly Olynyk, an outside-inside scorer who bedeviled the Pistons for 25 points and 13 rebounds. Johnson almost surely would have spent most of his minutes guarding Josh Richardson, who led Miami’s 3-point assault by hitting 5 of 7 in a 22-point outing.
And Jackson – though he wouldn’t have guarded Goran Dragic, who keyed Miami’s offense with 24 points and 13 assists – would have enabled Bradley to spend his time guarding the Heat point guard, a matchup made problematic with Ish Smith as the starter due to the size he gives away relative to Jackson when guarding opposition wing players.
“They were in the paint all night,” Van Gundy said. “The ball was coming inside out. They just broke you down on the dribble, on pick and rolls and on drives. We could not keep the ball out of the paint and that was the story of the game.”
A whopping 95 of Miami’s 111 points came at either extreme – in the paint (44 points) or from the 3-point arc (51). The Pistons scored 65 points from those two areas, leaving them too much ground to make up elsewhere. They outscored the Heat by five at the foul line and scored with relative efficiency from mid-range and, on balance, it was remarkable they managed to stay as close as they did.
They led for the majority of the first half, in fact, and at times in the second half. They were tied midway through the fourth quarter and were within three after Bradley’s triple with 1:17 left. But Olynyk cleaned up an offensive rebound when the Pistons forced a rare Miami attempt from mid-range, a Dragic 16-footer, and the Heat ran off another 15 seconds before Olynyk’s cutting layup clinched the win.
Van Gundy started Boban Marjanovic at center in Drummond’s absence and got an immediate payoff. Marjanovic overpowered Hassan Whiteside to the tune of eight points and five rebounds in the first 5:21, forcing two fouls on Whiteside. But when Erik Spoelstra sat Whiteside and moved Olynyk to center, he scored eight points – two triples and a put-back – in less than two minutes with Marjanovic forced to guard out to the 3-point line.
It was to avoid such a matchup that Van Gundy started Marjanovic in the first place.
“We only had two centers and we didn’t want him coming off the bench if they went with Olynyk,” he said. “We thought Whiteside was his best matchup.”
He avoided the Marjanovic-Olynyk matchup after that, though Eric Moreland didn’t fare much better. That prompted Van Gundy to try Anthony Tolliver at center for stretches of both halves. And it was Tolliver at center for the closing six minutes after Wayne Ellington’s triple put Miami up 97-94.
Without Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder, the Pistons were outrebounded 41-35, and though Miami only grabbed seven offensive boards the one Olynyk got in the final minute was a killer.
“The one we couldn’t pull out, that was huge,” Van Gundy said. “There’s always a tradeoff and you’ve got to live with that as a coach. If it doesn’t work, it’s a bad move. So I’ll put the heat on myself and take the heat. It’s only good if it works.”
The Pistons, minus two of their four double-digit scorers in Jackson and Drummond, saw six finish in double figures, led by Tobias Harris with 19 and Reggie Bullock – who hit five of his team’s nine triples in eight attempts – with 17. Luke Kennard had another strong game with 13 off the bench and Dwight Buycks got his shot behind Ish Smith at point guard and finished with 14 in 17 minutes.
They did well to score 104, given their injury situation, and might have pulled out another improbable win if Miami hadn’t made half its triples – or if they’d had Drummond there to shut down the waves of penetration.
“Our pick-and-roll defense would have been better,” Van Gundy admitted.
“It’s tough,” Bullock said. “At the same time, it’s an opportunity for other players to step up. It’s an opportunity for us to play together as a team, to do what those players did to take up that space of Andre. We just tried to grind it out tonight but came up short.”