Wood makes the most of it with Drummond, Griffin out as Pistons fall at Philly
PHILADELPHIA – Facing Eastern Conference co-favorite Philadelphia without both Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin is suboptimal – unless you’re Christian Wood and hoping to make an impression necessary to win a roster spot.
“I was happy,” Wood said of his reaction when he found out both Pistons All-Stars would miss the game. “I’m going to strike when the opportunity comes. Every single time, I’m going to go out there, I’m going to play with energy, I’m going to play hard and I’m going to play my heart out.”
For the first time in several seasons, how the Pistons address minutes when Drummond – who sat out on a planned rest day, Dwane Casey said – is up for grabs. Thon Maker started and though he couldn’t buy a basket – Maker missed all eight of his shots, half of them 3-pointers – he led the Pistons with five assists without a turnover and also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Wood is the other contender to win backup center minutes – but first he has to make the roster. On a non-guaranteed contract, Wood’s quest to be wearing a Pistons uniform on opening night next week at Indiana starts with outplaying Joe Johnson, the 17-year veteran invited to camp on a partially guaranteed deal. Johnson made a late 3-pointer as the Pistons were outscored 28-18 in the fourth quarter for his only points in two shot attempts over 17 minutes.
Wood surely helped himself at Philadelphia in a game the shorthanded Pistons – they also played without Philly native Markieff Morris, who is battling bronchitis – trailed by four at halftime and by 10 after three quarters before losing 106-86. Wood finished with a team-high 19 points in 24 minutes while tying Maker for the rebound lead with 10.
“They played tough,” Reggie Jackson said of Wood and Maker. “They brought everything they could. Even despite Joel (Embiid) playing well, I think they competed. It was a good test for them. I like the way they came out and competed.”
Wood has history with Embiid, launching his NBA career with the 76ers after going undrafted out of UNLV in 2015.
“It’s a big challenge,” he said of guarding the 7-foot-0, 280-pounder. “Me and Embiid have a relationship, me being here before ‘The Process’ even started with (ex-general manager) Sam Hinkie. I’m kind of familiar with his game, but it was great getting to go against him. He’s an All-Star, of course, and he had a great game.”
The 76ers, who played without Ben Simmons and Al Horford, ran their first-half offense almost exclusively through Embiid. He scored on the game’s first three possessions, showing off the diversity of his offense by draining a jump shot, getting fouled on a drive from the wing and posting up for a left-handed hook over Maker. He finished with 24 points in 22 minutes, scoring 20 in the first half before playing sparingly after halftime. But Wood had his moments, too, including using his extraordinary length to front Embiid – something few would attempt – on one occasion to pick off the pass that attempted to go over him.
“He’s done a great job, just staying ready no matter what,” Maker said. “Coming in at the four, coming it at the five, he’s done a great job on both ends of the floor – rebounding and in pick-and-roll situations on the offensive end, as well.”
Wood flashed the breadth of his abilities, challenging shots at the rim, making himself an inviting target as the roll man to score on dunks and layups, and running the floor hard. In one sequence in the second half, he grabbed a defensive rebound, led the break and finished by leaning into veteran big man Kyle O’Quinn to score at the other end. He hit a lean-in jump shot from just inside the 3-point arc to beat the shot clock on another possession, drawing a foul on the shot.
“He makes plays,” Casey said. “He finishes plays. He has a nice touch. His (challenge) is just being a little bit tougher on the boards, tougher finishing at the rim, defensively making sure he challenges shots at the rim. We’re long in there with Thon and also him in there, so we’ve got to have some more blocks at the rim.”
Other than Wood and Tony Snell, who started at power forward to match up against ex-Piston Tobias Harris and scored 17 points in 24 minutes, the Pistons struggled to score. They shot 32 percent with Maker and point guards Jackson (1 of 8) and Derrick Rose (2 of 10) combining to go 3 of 26.
“We’ve got to be confident and continue to take our shots,” Jackson said. “I think we’re still figuring out our roles a little bit, but I think we just haven’t been able to open the lid on the basket yet. Hopefully that comes soon. Hopefully we’re getting all our misses out in preseason.”
The Pistons stayed in the game as long as they did on the strength of their transition scoring with 16 of their 20 fast-break points coming in the first half. In the half court, Casey saw an issue with decision making.
“We didn’t move the ball,” he said. “We went in and challenged their big guys and they did an excellent job protecting the rim. They had 15 blocks. Kickout passes off the dribble were there and I thought we tried to do a little bit too much.”
Wood, who just turned 24, feels this is his best shot at sinking roots after stints with Philadelphia, Charlotte, Milwaukee and New Orleans. While there’s inherent pressure in his situation, it’s also the only life Wood has known since deciding to enter the NBA after two years on campus. And he’s comfortable that he’s put his best foot forward to make the decision easy for the Pistons front office and coaching staff.
“I’m pretty confident,” he said. “Yeah. Yes, sir.”