Philadelphia — It wasn’t Wilt Chamberlain versus Bill Russell, or even Patrick Ewing against Hakeem Olajuwon.
But it wasn’t Manute Bol versus Shawn Bradley, either.
Saturday night’s hyped matchup between Pistons center Andre Drummond and Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid was good theater, though.
On a night when many sports fans were focused on college football’s final four teams, the NBA world got to see two of the most talented centers in the league. They let everyone know about it, with their back-and-forth banter about each other’s foibles.
Embiid’s shot on Saturday morning: “No disrespect, but he can’t shoot, so I just have to worry about the defensive coverages that we have as a team.”
Drummond’s volley to Fox Sports Detroit’s Johnny Kane: “I mean, you can’t really have a conversation with a man who can’t play a back-to-back ... I’ve been playing for six years and I've missed maybe four, five games.
“So when he can play a whole season without taking a rest, he can come talk to me.”
It’s all blather. But it was fun.
Embiid finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds and Drummond had what’s becoming a typical stacked stat line: 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals. Embiid had the bigger numbers and his team won, 108-103, which is all that matters at the end of the day.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy wasn’t going to give the verbal jabs any life whatsoever, focusing instead on the small strides that Drummond is making on both ends of the floor.
Well, that, and the Pistons (14-8) lost their second straight.
“I don’t give a (crap) about any of that. I don’t think that has anything to do with anything,” Van Gundy said. “(Drummond) played him well. In relation to tweets and all of that, that’s a bunch of NBA crap.”
The sideshow of talk was just the extraneous icing on birthday cake — some seem to enjoy it, while others can just scrape it off with a fork and get to the real focus on the moist center of two big men playing the best basketball of their careers.
With so many sports options — well, besides the Red Wings being eviscerated, 10-1, by the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday — the blather is sometimes a needed garnish to make an 82-game schedule more palatable.
It worked for the sellout crowd of 20,562 at Wells Fargo Arena, who booed every time Drummond touched the ball and when he shot free throws. Drummond showed some mettle by making 6 of 8 from the free-throw line, further proof that his new approach isn’t a fluke.
'That man's an All-Star'
Embiid said that Drummond’s trash talk in the first game fueled him and Drummond seemed to be locked in on Saturday night.
It’s another step forward for Drummond, who had been criticized for his inconsistent play in his first five seasons.
That’s ending this year.
Drummond should get his second All-Star selection pretty easily, if anyone who votes is paying attention to even one game this season. For point guard Reggie Jackson, it’s not even a real quandary.
“It’s crazy to question. It’s not always numbers. He’s the engine and we’re having all this success honestly because of Andre Drummond,” Jackson told The Detroit News. “It’s ridiculous for anybody to question if that man’s an All-Star. If he continues to play like this, there will be more accolades coming this season.”
In a weird way, the back-and-forth with Embiid has helped Drummond, bringing more attention from common fans and pundits on a national scale who may not have given his new-found skill set even a first glance.
Embiid has garnered so much attention from his persona on social media and in interviews. Drummond is more reserved — and his new role on offense with the Pistons is emblematical of that. He’s not posting eye-popping numbers, but he’s becoming entrenched in the fabric of the Pistons’ offense.
For proof, just look at the minutes that Drummond is off the floor and how the offense changes.
And he’s just 24. He’s still growing his game and figuring things out.
The matchup with Embiid gave a glimpse into how good both of them can be, when they’re focused — trash talk or not.
“We were laughing more than anything,” Drummond said. “He and I both know what it is.”
It’s encouraging. That’s what it is.
The Monday Drive cruises by some more Pistons thoughts:
■ Rookie Luke Kennard looks to be settled into the rotation and is looking solid. He’s getting a good feel for playing with the reserves and has found a scoring touch, averaging 10.3 points in his last three games while shooting 53 percent from the field and 63 percent on 3-pointers. He’s the de facto backup small forward in a three-guard lineup.
■ Some fans bag on Reggie Jackson playing “hero” ball — taking too many or difficult shots, especially late in games. He’s shooting a career-best 38 percent on 3-pointers and has scored at least 20 points and shot above 50 percent in three of the last four games. Jackson is becoming more efficient and finding the right times to attack, which isn’t an exact science.
■ Boban Marjanovic is showing flashes on the road trip, averaging 5.5 points in 5.6 minutes and getting some quality minutes against Embiid. Van Gundy said he should have gone back to him when Drummond picked up his fifth foul, before fouling out a couple minutes later. He shot 2-for-3 in each game, when Van Gundy was looking for an offensive spark.
■ The Pistons look to be finding their level — maybe they weren’t as good as their record suggested, but also they’re going through the teeth of the difficult part of the schedule. They’ll have some sub-.500 teams to feed on after they get through the Warriors and Celtics at home this weekend.
■ While the starters had been playing better together since Monday’s win over the Celtics, they’ve been inconsistent again, with slow starts in the last two losses. The zombie-like second half against the Wizards and first half versus the Sixers was again the undoing.