Auburn Hills – It's become an all-too-familiar sight: Pistons center Andre Drummond glued to the bench during crunch time in a close game because of his free-throw shooting woes.
It happened late in the regular season when the Pistons were in the thick of the playoff race and jostling for one of last Eastern Conference spots.
And again on April 8 when Drummond was replaced with backup Aron Baynes for the final 8 minutes, 51 seconds of the team’s postseason-clinching victory over the Wizards.
And again in Game 1 of the best-of-seven first-round series against the Cavaliers when Drummond was banished to the sidelines for the final 2:58 of a five-point game.
And once again in Game 3 when Drummond was yanked with 6:02 remaining after the Cavaliers intentionally fouled him and he missed both free throws, failing to cut into a four-point deficit.
“(Pistons coach) Stan (Van Gundy) knows what he’s doing, so I just try to do my part as a team player, cheer for my teammates,” Drummond said following Friday’s 101-91 defeat, which put the Pistons in a 3-0 hole.
“I don't control my minutes or what he does down the stretch in games. I just stay prepared and stay ready for when the moment comes.”
But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Van Gundy isn’t willing to roll the dice with the 22-year-old All-Star during those pivotal late-game moments.
“You can’t do anything with him. He can’t run to set a screen, he can’t do anything. You’ve just got opportunities to foul him,” Van Gundy said, when asked why he didn’t re-enter Drummond in the last few minutes on Friday.
“I gave him one possession (two missed free throws). We’re behind. We can’t go down and play for zero points. Even though we did, we just, we can’t do that.”
Van Gundy expanded on his postgame comments following the team’s film session on Saturday, going into further detail why Drummond has essentially become a liability in the decisive final minutes.
“Unless you throw a lob, you can’t throw him the ball,” Van Gundy said. “You think about keeping him in on the offensive boards, but everything is going to have to be a tip-in because (Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue) was pissed off one time in Game 2 when Andre got a rebound and they didn’t tie him up. That’s just something we’re going to have to deal with. I mean, he’s 5-for-22 in the last two games, so I’m not riding that out. I’m just not.
“Clearly it’s the way I played the last part of the year, too. It’s, just, even to bring him back in the last two minutes then your options are limited. It’s a problem, it really is.”
Lue hasn’t been shy in using the “Beat-a-Drum” strategy to exploit Drummond’s Achilles heel. Through the first three playoff games, Drummond is shooting 25 percent (6-for-24) from the free-throw line, well below his career-worst season average (35.5 percent).
As a result, Drummond -- who is averaging 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in 33.3 minutes in the series -- has been a non-factor in the fourth quarters, recording just three points and four rebounds in 13:44 (out of a possible 36 minutes).
“It’s tough,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “We understand we have one of our cornerstones on the bench in tough stretches.
“It’s been tough on him. He’s trying to remain confident, of course, always putting in work and trying to find a way to affect the game in other ways. It’s a call that coach is making to try and give ourselves a chance.”
And far too often, that chance doesn’t include Drummond.