Drummond on bench for key moment, Celtics edge Pistons
Auburn Hills — Andre Drummond, again, was on the bench late in a close game — and again, it cost the Pistons.
This, though, had nothing to do with his free-throw shooting.
With 30 seconds left, coach Stan Van Gundy subbed in Aron Baynes for Drummond to help execute a play that worked, with Tobias Harris hitting a tying 3-pointer with 23.2 seconds left.
But the Celtics didn't call a timeout after that, leaving Van Gundy handcuffed and Drummond on the bench as the Celtics grabbed two offensive rebounds, the last one tipped in by Al Horford with 1.3 seconds left for a 94-92 victory over the Pistons on Saturday night at The Palace.
It was the Pistons' first loss in six games at home this season. Overall, it was their third consecutive loss.
"(Drummond) was out for the execution of the (Harris) play, and it's not that he can't execute it. We've run that play before, and Aron's really good," Van Gundy said. "As it turned out, quite honestly, I'm not sure Aron's part in it had a lot to do with it.
"He was out to execute that play, and obviously we did execute it, but like I'm kicking myself right now. If (Drummond) had been in the game, he'd probably get the rebound and we'd probably still be playing instead of me talking to you. Not that I don't enjoy talking to you guys, but it could've waited another 45 minutes."
After Harrison made the 3-pointer to tie the game at 92, igniting the crowd of 16,107 on a frigid evening in Metro Detroit, Celtics coach Brad Stevens decided to let his team play without scripting something.
Isaiah Thomas took the ball down the court and drove the lane, but instead of shooting, he found Jae Crowder open on the wing. Crowder, just back from an ankle injury, let it fly but was off. Marcus Smart got the offensive rebound, but he missed; then Horford got another offensive rebound, and he didn't miss.
All Drummond could do was watch. And that was excruciating.
"I really wish I could've been out there to try and make a difference," Drummond said. "Coach obviously knows best."
Van Gundy didn't admit to Drummond that he messed up, like he did during his postgame news conference.
He didn't have to.
"I could see it in his face," said Drummond, "he felt like he made a mistake."
The Pistons had one last crack to tie it, but Horford — just back from a concussion — finished it with a hard, clean block on Baynes' jumper.
Horford, playing for the first time since Halloween, finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Drummond had 20 points and 17 rebounds for the Pistons, and in doing so, he became the fastest player in NBA history to reach 4,000 career points and 4,000 career rebounds, passing Shaquille O'Neal. Playing in his 317th game, Drummond now has 4,207 points and 4,009 rebounds. At 23 years, 101 days, he's the second-youngest player to reach the milestone, behind Dwight Howard, who accomplished it at 22 years, 129 days old.
That's not much consolation for Drummond or the Pistons, not that Van Gundy chalks the entire loss up to that final sequence — though it was a pretty ugly final sequence. Nobody really went for the rebounds other than Ish Smith.
"We can't let them get two extra shots off," said Harris, who scored 19, including several on crowd-pleasing dunks. "Which is frustrating."
Said Van Gundy: "We just watched. I mean, they missed the shot and everybody sort of stood there and watched and nobody blocked anybody out."
What made it more frustrating is the Pistons actually won the rebounding battle against the Celtics, 50-46.
The final five minutes of the game were fast and furious, with both teams exchanging jaw-breaking right hooks at a crazy frantic pace, with nobody calling timeout until there were 30 seconds left in the game.
With 1:56 left, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made his only field goal of the night, but it was a huge one — a go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner. Horford, though, responded with a dunk to put the Celtics back on top by a point.
On the other end, Marcus Morris — who bounced back from his recent struggles with a season-high 24 points — threw up a beauty of an alley-oop to Drummond, who slammed it down for an 89-88 lead.
Isaiah Thomas then drove down and picked up two of his team-high 24 points for the Celtics, with a go-ahead layup. Forty seconds later, Thomas was driving again, and picked up a questionable foul by Morris; two free throws later, and Boston led by three.
That's when Van Gundy called timeout, subbed in Baynes for Drummond, and set up Harris' heroics — which ended up not being quite enough.
"They're a good team. They're a hard team to play against," Stevens said of the Pistons. "We had a good lineup in there to score and to get to the basket and those type of things."
That's why Stevens opted against the timeout following Harris' 3-pointer.
The end will stand out, but the Pistons cost themselves in other ways. The first quarter was ugly; Drummond picked up two quick fouls, and sat much of the opening half. And at the end of two quarters — with a 3-pointer at the end of the first, and an uncontested layup at the end of the third — the Celtics scored at the buzzer.
In a close game, those little things add up — often in defeat.
"Our guys never look at that stuff when it comes down to deciding the game," Van Gundy said. "You can't just quit on a quarter.
"In a game you lose by two, that's frustrating."
Smith added 12 points for the Pistons, and Beno Udrih provided some energy and a spark off the bench, with eight points and four assists.
Avery Bradley scored 13 for the Celtics.
The Pistons will try to snap their skid Monday at home against the Rockets.
"That was really tough," Morris said. "I thought we had control."