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Auburn Hills — On a normal night, if Andre Drummond executes the directives issued by his coach to dominate the glass and defend like a maniac, he's usually a lock to be on the floor in the fourth quarter.

But his 18 rebounds and overall effectiveness weren't enough to offset his free-throw struggles Monday afternoon, preventing Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy from re-inserting his young center in the fourth quarter of the Pistons' 93-82 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

His eight misses in the third quarter became an effective strategy for Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer to use against the charging Pistons, who were attempting a comeback while going through a miserable offensive night.

"As an athlete you want to be out there to help your team," Drummond said. "But coach doesn't feel it's the best fit, you have to understand he feels a certain way, that another guy is the right fit for that moment."

"It's not my decision. I gotta sit there and stay ready. It's what it comes to. I can't get discouraged."

It forced Van Gundy to make the decision to keep Drummond on the bench in the fourth as the Pistons were behind and trying to mount a comeback.

"Yeah and that's not fun. Look, for him I'm sure it's frustrating, and you feel bad as a coach," Van Gundy said. "I thought he played really well. I thought he brought a lot of energy, I thought he had one of his best defensive games.

"He ran the floor. He got some deep post-ups in transition. I thought he really brought great effort and great focus to the game.

"One of his best games of the year and then you don't play him in the fourth because you're behind and he has the 2-10 third quarter."

Although Van Gundy likely believes every word he's saying about Drummond, singing his praises publicly won't hurt Van Gundy in the future. He displays he understands the balance between playing Drummond for his ferocious strengths versus sitting him for his weaknesses.

"I don't think it's easy," Van Gundy said. "I think that intellectually he has an understanding of what's going on but he knows he's doing other things.

"A lot of times I don't worry about it. I leave him in. If you're in the lead and playing well and getting stops, you can ride with that."

Drummond is shooting 45 percent from the line for the month but went 4-4 in Indiana, 4-6 in Toronto and 2-3 against Brooklyn. It's certainly a work in progress and his issues have plagued him through his entire career — but the difference is, his team is now playing for the playoffs and critical decisions have to be made.

"I feel like a night like that, I haven't been shooting it as bad as I used to," Drummond said. "I've been having decent shooting nights. That was one of the worst I've had in a long time. It won't snowball and get worse."

He's had nights where opposing teams have fouled him intentionally, and he said Rasheed Wallace used to give him code words to settle himself and relax while at the stripe.

It's still a lonely place and although everybody has believes it's an easy task, there are not many who can get inside Drummond's head at that moment.

But he insists it doesn't carry over after a game and he doesn't get frustrated with himself.

But he hasn't been pulled from a playoff game yet, either.

"Nah, everything is a process. I don't expect to be an 80 percent shooter by tomorrow night," he said. "I'm gonna have nights where I show progress, nights where I step back. I know it's a process. I'll get better."

vgoodwill@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/vgoodwill

Magic at Pistons

Tip-off: 7:30 tonight, The Palace of Auburn Hills

TV/radio: FSD/105.1

Outlook: The Magic could be without F Tobias Harris (right ankle). ... The Pistons and Magic split the two meetings this season, each winning decisively on the other's home floor.

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