AUBURN HILLS, MI. – In the end, Andre Drummond was missing in action.
Instead of being on the court with the Detroit Pistons in the final six minutes of Game 4 of their first round, best-of-seven NBA playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was on the bench with the scrubs and the coaches.
Drummond, the 6-foot-11 All-Star center, wasn’t there because of foul trouble. His poor free-throw shooting had him glued to the pine come crunch time.
When Pistons’ guard Reggie Jackson missed his three-point try at the buzzer, the Cavs had won, 100-98, at The Palace and had completed the sweep and were moving on.
The Pistons will be back. And next time, Drummond will be out there when it matters most.
Some Pistons fans are frustrated about Drummond’s horrid free-throw shooting. He made just 11 of 34 in the four games against Cleveland. That just won’t get it done.
Drummond will need to be at least a 50 percent free-throw shooter next season. He was five for 10 from the line Sunday night in the series finale.
He can get there because he’s a hard worker and wants to get better. “You think I sit around and not work at it?” a testy Drummond said when asked about it.
The cry from some fans not to max out Drummond, 22, this summer and look elsewhere for a star center is simply crazy.
Enter Pistons owner Tom Gores.
Gores said after the game that he’s “absolutely” comfortable giving Drummond, a restricted free agent, a maximum contract worth about $120 million.
“He’s working hard and I think he’ll crack the code (on free throws),” Gores said. “I’m not worried about it at all. I think he’s a great player.
“He deserves (a max deal), without a doubt.”
Coming into the series, some were convinced that the Pistons matched up well against the Cavs on paper and could actually push them – and even perhaps win a few games.
Most of that confidence came from Drummond’s presence. It allowed the Pistons to win three of four regular season games against Cleveland.
But Detroit winning a game in this series never happened when the stage got bigger and the lights got brighter.
And the Cavs used the Hack-A-Drummond strategy.
It stopped the Pistons from having an honest shot to win and pull an upset.
So while it was great that the Pistons made the playoffs for the first time in seven years, Detroit still hasn’t won a playoff game since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2008 against Boston.
If the Pistons are going to win in the postseason, coach Stan Van Gundy has to coach better and get Drummond to improve. Plus, Van Gundy has to have some confidence in Drummond and leave him out there in a big spot. It’s the only way he will feel comfortable down the stretch in the future.
“That’s something that we will talk about – he and I and our staff,” Van Gundy said about moving forward to address the issue. “We’ve been kicking around some ideas and we’ll go forward. He shot them pretty well (Sunday). He’s made a big improvement in terms of his technique when he’s in the gym. Now it’s being able to transfer that to games.
Pistons’ fans have a right to be disappointed in Drummond, the cornerstone to this franchise’ turnaround.
Drummond played pretty well, but his horrid free-throw shooting kept him on the bench in crunch time. It’s hard to imagine winning big games with your big man not on the floor.
Drummond has to do better than hitting just 32 percent of his free throws as he did against the Cavs, if the Pistons are going to build on this first step next season.
“The team we have, I wouldn’t trade them for anybody,” said Drummond, who finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. “These guys know what I’ve been through the last four years.
“Sometimes, it’s frustrating not being out there with them, but you go to keep your head up and cheer them on. I’m looking forward to having the same guys back next season and try to pick up where we left off.”
Next time around, the Pistons will need to finish games, win in the playoffs and not just be fodder for another team.
The only way that happens is with Drummond on the floor, not on the bench.