'Mental toughness': Drummond sharp at line, Pistons prevail

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons celebrates the win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.

Detroit — Andre Drummond, free-throw taker.

Andre Drummond, free-throw maker.

That’s not a typo.

The days of Drummond being a liability at the free-throw line appear to be over — at least temporarily.

Drummond had a career night of free-throw shooting, hitting 14 of 16 attempts at the line and keying a breakout offensive effort, with a season-high 24 points and adding 15 rebounds.

BOX SCORE: Pistons 105, Bucks 96

Along with some good team defense and timely hustle plays, the Pistons had enough to hold off the Milwaukee Bucks for a thrilling 105-96 victory on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.

In the third quarter alone, Drummond went 10-of-12 from the line, punctuating the effort with a steal and coast-to-coast drive, getting fouled with 2.5 seconds remaining and making both free throws, for an 82-72 lead heading into the fourth.

“It’s attesting to the hard work I put in the summer to find something that works for me and stay mentally strong — and if I do miss a shot, to come back and knock down the next ones,” Drummond said. “It’s mental toughness and being ready all the time to shoot the same shot.

“I wasn’t even counting but in the fourth quarter, I said, ‘I’ve been up here a lot tonight.’ It felt good to see them go in.”

Drummond was 14-of-20 in the first eight games of the season, but he was nonchalant about his breakout game, which drew a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 17,207.

“(The Bucks’) idea was to let him catch the ball and hammer him. I don’t think that strategy is going to work this year. A night like tonight, that’s not a fluke,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “If you’re a 35-percent shooter and you go 8-for-16, maybe you had a good night. (He was) 14-for-16 — and they all looked good.”

Drummond had plenty of help, though. Avery Bradley added 23 points and Tobias Harris 13 for the Pistons, who improved to 6-3 and are staying close for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

The Bucks are a difficult team to beat when All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo gets going. He entered the game as the league’s leading scorer, at 31.3 points and at 6-foot-11 with the skills and quickness of a point guard, he's difficult to defend.

So the Pistons played some of their best stretches against the Bucks when he was on the bench.

The Pistons’ reserves feasted with the Bucks superstar out of the game, taking an 11-point halftime lead — creating the margin in the stints when Antetokounmpo was resting — and holding on during a furious Bucks run in the final period.

The Pistons did a good job in trying to contain Antetokounmpo, who finished with 29 points on 13-of-27 shooting, but had five rebounds and three assists for the Bucks (4-5).

The bench spurred the Pistons. They started the fourth quarter with a 9-1 run, with a step-back jumper from Stanley Johnson (eight points), a jumper from Ish Smith (10 points, four assists),  a 3-pointer by Langston Galloway and another jumper from Johnson.

The Bucks started their comeback with a four-point play by Thon Maker and a lay-in by Khris Middleton (16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists), to trim the lead to 10.

That’s when Drummond filled in for his unlikely role as a free-throw catalyst. He hit two, then after a reverse by Malcolm Brogdon (21 points), added a pair to keep the lead at 12. Drummond's free throws in the third quarter helped the Pistons maintain their double-digit lead.

“He got down in there and (the Bucks) had a choice: You can pull in and leave people open and Reggie and Ish found people for open shots, or Andre is going to be open down there,” Van Gundy said.

Drummond entered the game at 14-of-20 from the line and matched his season total for made free throws in one game, improving his season average to 78 percent.

Antetokounmpo made six of the last eight points for the Bucks, but the lead stayed in double digits until the final two minutes, when Reggie Jackson (nine points, eight assists) added a coast-to-coast dunk to put an exclamation point on the second straight home win, following a successful 2-1 road trip.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard