The Pistons shot 48 percent and bounced back from their loss to the Bulls, but not before Drummond set an NBA single-game record for missed free throws
Houston — During his nine seconds of playing time in the second half, Rockets guard K.J. McDaniels had only one job.
Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul.
McDaniels was brought off the bench to commit five intentional hacking fouls — all of them early in the third quarter.
That was enough to put the Pistons in the bonus, meaning they would be at the free-throw line after every foul. And that put Andre Drummond in the crosshairs.
The first 2½ minutes after halftime devolved a hideous free-throw exhibition, with the crowd at Toyota Center watching Drummond, the league’s worst free-throw shooter, take 16 tries at the foul line — and make only five.
That was the sideshow of the second half of an ugly game, but the Pistons managed to pull ahead during the subsequent stretches of actual basketball — and took a 123-114 victory over the Rockets on Wednesday night.
Drummond set an NBA single-game record with 23 missed free throws, going 13-of-36 in the game, drawing boos from the fans at Toyota Center. The 36 attempts also set a new Pistons franchise record.
“That wasn’t a chess match — they wanted to foul and we let them foul,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “That’s the game the league wants, so that’s what fans get to watch.”
The strategy by Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff rekindled the recent debate around how much fans want to watch poor free-throw shooters after they’re intentionally fouled or whether the NBA should change the rule for next season.
“Trying to win the game — it didn’t work,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s it. That’s all I have to say about that.”
Despite the Rockets’ odd strategy — and a triple-double from James Harden, who had 33 points, a career-best 17 rebounds and 14 assists — the Pistons (23-19) prevailed. Detroit shot 48 percent from the field, including 56 percent (10-of-18) in the fourth quarter.
Stan Van Gundy lamented the Rockets' strategy but was glad to get the 123-114 win.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris each had 22 points and Drummond finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
After an 8-0 run in the final three minutes of the second quarter, the Pistons had a 56-47 lead at halftime. Ersan Ilyasova (18 points) hit an off-balance drive, Reggie Jackson added a basket and a pair of free throws and Caldwell-Pope followed with a jumper with 58 seconds left.
In the opening seconds of the third quarter, though, the strategy started.
Drummond — who entered the game at 35 percent this season on free throws — paraded to the line for eight pairs of free throws.
For a few minutes, it worked out for the Rockets.
While the Pistons only scored on Drummond’s five makes during the stretch, the Rockets sliced into the lead, with a pair of 3-pointers from Corey Brewer and baskets from Ty Lawson (18 points) and Clint Capela to trim the lead to 60-57.
Trevor Ariza’s triple tied it 60, just before Drummond split the pair on his last two tries of the run. From there, Van Gundy brought in backup center Aron Baynes — and the intentional fouls ceased. The Rockets moved ahead, with consecutive baskets by Capela and Lawson, taking their largest lead, 64-61.
The Pistons used a 9-0 spurt, with two baskets by Jackson (17 points, nine assists), a tip by Ilyasova and a 3-pointer from Caldwell-Pope, to regain the lead, 74-68.
The Pistons never trailed after that.
Harden had five straight points to get the Rockets within one, but Ilyasova answered with a basket and Stanley Johnson added two free throws. Ilyasova tacked on another basket and a pair of free throws for an eight-point lead.
The Pistons led, 85-79, after the third quarter and the Rockets again closed within one, but another 12-0 spurt — including a triple by Morris and back-to-back baskets by Brandon Jennings — thwarted a comeback attempt.
Rockets center Dwight Howard suffered an ankle injury in the first minute of the game and didn’t return. Without him, the Rockets were short their best defensive player, and it showed.
“It was a huge difference, the way he has been playing for us,” Bickerstaff said. “He’s been impressive, he’s been dominant, so you miss that and your rotations are going to become shorter, especially playing against a guy like Drummond.”
In the fourth quarter, the Rockets again went to the intentional-foul strategy on Drummond — and he made 6 of his first 8 — and the lead ballooned to 103-90 with 7:11 remaining.
“I’m not going to miss them all. I’ve worked on it enough to where I’m going to build a rhythm over time; I ended up getting one,” Drummond said. “The most important thing is that we came out with a win today.”