There’s The D
Drummond leads Pistons on defense as they snap 3-game skid, beat Kings
It’s this simple for the Pistons. If they play defense as consistently hard and as steadfastly disciplined as they managed to do for the second half of Tuesday’s 99-89 win over Sacramento, they’ll make the playoffs.
Anything less – or anything that more closely resembles the defense they’ve put into evidence for the past month or so up until Tuesday’s halftime – and they almost certainly will pack the equipment away after the April 17 regular-season finale.
The Pistons gave up 54 points to Sacramento in the first half of a game that put them exactly on course to give up the 108 they’ve averaged over the past 13 since John Loyer took over from Mo Cheeks.
They gave up 11 in the third quarter, 35 in the second half when Sacramento managed all of 14 baskets, three of them coming in the last 90 seconds when the Pistons had safely tucked their 99-89 win away.
That second half started, fittingly enough, with an Andre Drummond dunk. Kyle Singler dumped the ball down to him about 10 feet from the basket with the shot clock in single digits, not exactly his comfort zone. But Drummond gathered himself and exploded to the basket, covering ground in a step that maybe not another NBA big man could have managed.
His presence forced a traveling violation on Sacramento’s own budding young big man, DeMarcus Cousins, 17 seconds later. The Pistons got transition 3-pointers from Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings 26 seconds apart a few possessions later, forcing a Sacramento timeout less than two minutes into the second half.
“Those buckets really helped us get going,” Kyle Singler said. “We had good rhythm and they were the first one to call timeout. We felt like they were backpedaling a little bit and we kept gong, kept playing well.”
"I thought we played well, we played with a sense of urgency. There are a couple of things we could do a little better but this is definitely a building point."
- Will Bynum on the win
Full game quotes
They might not have won without those two big triples and they likely wouldn’t have without the first-half offensive punch of Rodney Stuckey. But make no mistake: The game was won on the back of their defense and no one was more central to that defensive effort than Drummond.
He finished the night with five blocked shots, but the three that came against Cousins in the first quarter made Sacramento’s offensive hub reticent to venture inside. He finished with 13 points – more than nine under his average – and many of them came with Drummond on the bench, either resting or in foul trouble. A 48 percent shooter, Cousins shot 5 of 15. Drummond’s 15 points and eight rebounds belied his impact.
“Sometimes it isn’t about numbers, it’s how you play,” Loyer said. “I thought it was one of Andre’s better games. I thought he did a much better job in the post. His defense was good. I thought Andre’s intent to guard in the post and Greg’s (Monroe) intent to guard in the post was very, very good. To control a player like Cousins, you’ve got to do a good job and they both did.”
“Andre’s a force down there,” Singler said. “He’s going to make plays like that – he has to make plays like that. We’re not that great on-the-ball defenders and guys are going to get by us. For him to protect the rim like that, it’s big for us.”
Drummond’s defensive impact might not have mattered as much if Stuckey hadn’t had just as significant an impact on his team’s offensive mentality. The Pistons trailed 18-10 when Stuckey entered the game midway through the first quarter. It went to 21-10 before Stuckey started pounding Sacramento inside, overpowering rookies Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum and finally forcing Kings coach Mike Malone to try his luck with 6-foot-9 veteran Travis Outlaw on Stuckey.
He finished with 23 points, 16 in the first half coming on just seven field-goal attempts.
“He came in, got a new haircut, so his swag was turned up a little bit tonight,” said Josh Smith, who led the Pistons with 24 points on 10 of 17 shooting and played a major role in turning Rudy Gay (20 points on 8 of 21 shooting) into an inefficient scorer for Sacramento. “In order for us to be successful, we need him to play like the Rodney Stuckey we know he’s capable of being.”
“When Stuck came in, we started attacking downhill,” Loyer said. “I thought we settled for a few jump shots early. It was kind of contagious. Rodney really got in the lane, put his head down, didn’t settle for jump shots.”
Offense, by and large, hasn’t been the problem for the Pistons, though. The takeaway from a win that was vital to keeping their playoff flame still flickering was a defense that sealed off penetration while still contesting jump shots. If that formula doesn’t prove elusive to them, they might find themselves playing basketball beyond April 17 after all.