Wojo: Ben's presence brings back Pistons' sneer
Auburn Hills — Of all the ways to honor a franchise great, the Pistons pulled off the best one. They raised Ben Wallace’s jersey to the rafters, and then raised a packed Palace crowd to its feet again and again with an electric shredding of the world champs.
The Pistons rolled the Warriors 113-95 Saturday night with the type of passion and big-man malice that marked Wallace’s teams. Maybe it was the presence of the 2004 champs, or maybe it was just one stirring effort in a long NBA season. Hey, Golden State is 37-4 and entitled to a letdown, although Stephen Curry managed to tally a tidy 38 points.
But the Pistons did to the Warriors what few teams do, and did it in a way that looked vaguely familiar. Andre Drummond doesn’t have a frightful ‘Fro, but he displayed something just as important. He was emotionally charged, and his agitation toward Draymond Green was a brief flashback to the menacing ways of Wallace and his teammates.
Several times, Drummond whirled on the court after a whistle and glared at Green, who responded with more verbal jabs. The Pistons (22-18) didn’t back down, and if they’re truly capable of becoming a playoff contender, this is how they must evolve. They have a uniquely gifted center in Drummond, and when he plays like this, it doesn’t matter how many shots or free throws he might miss.
Drummond finished with 14 points, 21 rebounds and three blocked shots, and the Pistons’ defense held the Warriors to their worst shooting night of the season (36 percent). Drummond is still young (22), but if his 6-foot-11 presence can consistently supplement the potentially dynamic backcourt of Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Jennings, hey, the Pistons might be on to something here.
“We did not back down at all,” Stan Van Gundy said. “They wanted to turn it into (a chippy game), but no, we stood up to it. Draymond was talking, and wanted to do some extracurricular stuff after the play, and Andre wasn’t having it.”
After Green drew an offensive foul on Drummond in the first half, the Pistons’ center wheeled and appeared ready to go after him. Later, the always-talkative Green was called for a technical foul, as the Pistons rolled to a 16-point halftime lead.
Then in the fourth quarter, Drummond ran the floor and hammered an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Marcus Morris that pushed the margin to 19. A few minutes later, he dropped a baseline hook shot over Green, flashed an angry look, and the party was on.
Afterward, Drummond said he has no problems with Green, who finished with five points. The two actually didn’t guard each other most of the night, but kept bumping bodies.
“It’s like playing your best friend, you talk (junk) to them if you want to,” Drummond said with a smile. “It doesn’t mean you mean it, you just try to get the best of him.”
There were interesting connections all over the floor on a festive night that featured a terrific halftime ceremony. Wallace watched the game courtside flanked by teammates Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton, along with coach Larry Brown.
Drummond is 19 years younger than Ben Wallace, but certainly knows his game, while Green said he was inspired by Wallace growing up in Saginaw. Green and Drummond possess some of Wallace’s best qualities, although Green obviously is a better shooter.
When it comes to defense and rebounding and size, Drummond has the capability to top them all. He said he told Wallace before the game he’d get 20 rebounds in his honor, and he delivered, plus one.
“My defensive presence is what I try to model after him,” Drummond said. “I intimidate people by the way I play. I don’t need to talk. I’m not gonna always have a good shooting night, but defensively, I did a good job of trying to be the anchor for my team.”
Wallace was a once-in-a-generation oddity, an undrafted, undersized player who branded a championship team and won four Defensive Player of the Year awards. In The Palace Saturday night was another once-in-a-generation player in Curry, who’s such a sensation, he drew a large crowd just to watch him warm up 90 minutes before the game.
In the making
And then there’s Drummond, who could be a once-in-a-generation player if he develops a bit more offense, a consistent mean streak and a motor that doesn’t idle.
“I haven’t talked to Andre this season because I haven’t needed to talk to him,” said Wallace, who lives in Richmond, Va. “He’s having a great season, I think he’s turning that corner. I think he’s ready to go out and claim his own. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Drummond leads the NBA with 15.5 rebounding average and is likely to land in his first All-Star game. He tops the NBA in double-doubles with a staggering 34 in 40 games. He can be a force, and he can be the reason the Pistons end their six-year playoff drought.
In the locker room after the victory, former Pistons mingled with current ones, and Billups talked about how The Palace atmosphere Saturday night reminded him of the glory days. Billups, who commentates on ESPN now, shook his head when asked about Drummond.
“Andre’s always been a tough player, but he’s starting to learn a little more now,” Billups said. “He’s getting some attention, and guys will start to be physical, try to take him out of the game. It’s good to see him not put up with that. This team will end up following his lead.”
That’s why Van Gundy pushes so hard, because when people see a game like this, they know it’s possible more often. The sellout crowd was there for Wallace and to watch Curry and the mighty Warriors. A few more efforts like this, and fans will come simply to see how quickly the Pistons can grow, and how high the big fella can go.