Drummond happy over clincher despite outward appearance

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Pistons center Andre Drummond sat on the bench alone, trying to gather his thoughts while his teammates were putting the finishing touches on their 112-99, playoff-clinching victory over the Washington Wizards.

It was a noticeable contrast to the celebration that later ensued, giving the Pistons their first postseason spot since 2009.

After missing two free throws, Drummond went to the bench for the final 8:51 of the game, in favor of backup Aron Baynes. Down the stretch, Baynes made a hook shot and six free throws — the only other Pistons player to score in that span aside from Reggie Jackson’s 12 points.

“I was excited for my team. Aron Baynes came out and closed the game out,” said Drummond, who finished with eight points and six rebounds — just the fifth time in 80 games that he hasn’t reached double figures in points and rebounds.

“It’s exciting, playing a winning season. We haven’t won that many games in a very long time. Tonight was a special moment for the city as a whole and we’re finally back in.”

With the postseason hanging in the balance, coach Stan Van Gundy wasn’t going to take a chance on leaving Drummond in a close game. Drummond was 2-of-5 from the line in the game, but the Wizards had cut the lead to two and Van Gundy wasn’t in the mood for gambling.

“I think he’s really frustrated with the whole free-throw thing and coming out of the game. I went down and picked him up at the end of the game,” Van Gundy said. “It’s all about winning and he has to understand that.”

During a couple of timeouts, Drummond was seen on the bench, not participating in the team huddles. As the season reached a crescendo, he wasn’t able to help his team.

“He’s happy about being in the playoffs. It’s right at the time and he wants to be out there,” Van Gundy said. “This guy’s an All-Star and he wants to be out there, getting the job done for his organization and his teammates and everything else and he’s relegated to the bench because there’s one thing he doesn’t do really well.

“That a really frustrating thing for a guy of his caliber to have to sit there and watch at the end of a game like this.”

The All-Star center sulked for the final minutes but ended up celebrating, helping douse Van Gundy with water in the jubilant locker room. Having not made the playoffs in his first four seasons, it’s a change of scenery from just playing out the string of games at the end of the season.

“Today was a very special moment for everybody, especially for the people who have been around the longest. We had to do it for the city.”

While Drummond has sat in the final minutes of several games this season because of his poor free-throw shooting, it drew attention because it was at the end of the game that clinched the playoffs.

Van Gundy focused on the bigger picture and the overall team.

“Everybody else was in it and that’s all that matters. It’s not a matter of who played well and who didn’t play well,” he said. “What matters is we got our 43rd win and we got in the playoffs.”

After the game, Drummond explained himself further via Twitter:

“For all those who thought I was sad about that game … isn’t the case at all just was sad my best friend who passed away wouldn’t be able to see me in my first playoff run, I’m beyond excited we won! #pistonNation.”