Drummond had 12 points and 12 rebounds in Game 3 but struggled to find his rhythm. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Detroit — There’s one more game, which probably won’t reveal anything we haven’t already seen, or didn’t already know. The Pistons aren’t nearly good enough to compete with Milwaukee in a series, or even a full game, in case you were still wondering.
This is what happens in the glare of the playoffs, which is why the Pistons wanted to make it here, and some fans didn’t. You see everything, from the possibilities — a noisy, jammed Little Caesars Arena hosting its first playoff game — to the improbabilities and the ugly truths.
The truth is, the Pistons are as far from a legitimate contender as we imagined. The other harsh truth is, Andre Drummond remains a maddening, unsolvable conundrum. He’s big enough and compensated well enough, he should be a force on both ends. Instead, he’s caved to frustration and gotten controlled by the Bucks’ 7-foot Brook Lopez, who’s shooting 54 percent (40 percent on 3s).
Playing on a sore left leg, Blake Griffin was everything he’s supposed to be in Game 3, with 27 points. But by the second quarter of the Bucks’ 119-103 victory, the LCA crowd had turned from festive to annoyed and was booing Drummond, who was 2-for-10 in the first half with a bunch of missed bunnies (in time for Easter) and three shots blocked by Lopez.
The Pistons have one more chance to avoid a 4-0 sweep Monday night, and even if they show respectable fight, they’re unlikely to change many minds about where they’re headed. They’ve gotten obliterated by an average margin of 24, and sorry, Milwaukee’s decreasing point total — from 121 to 120 to 119 — doesn’t count as progress.
“They’re a really tough team, an experienced team, and we’re a team trying to figure it out,” said Drummond, who finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds on Saturday. “I don’t know if there’s such a thing as too much energy, but I was just too hyped up, and I ended up throwing myself off at the (offensive) end, and it was hard to catch my rhythm after that. For me, it was more of, I wanted to make the play instead of making the play.”
'Next step of his career'
Drummond spoke calmly, directly, and only flashed irritation when asked about the booing. “Bad question,” he said, although it really wasn’t. The larger issue is his immaturity shows too often on the court. He gets frustrated with refs, with himself, with opponents. On the ESPN broadcast, former Piston Chauncey Billups called out Drummond for “a little soft attempt” at defending a Lopez 3-pointer.
That said, the Pistons’ roster is so flawed, it’s silly to blame everything on Drummond. And in the final two months of the season, he was mostly dominant, energized and physical. But if you’re going to be an outlier in today’s NBA — a 7-footer who rebounds but has limited offensive skills — you have to be much better at everything else.
Drummond, 25, isn’t there, despite leading the NBA in rebounding. He isn’t remotely close to being there offensively, and after six seasons, remains a shooting wreck in the post.
Owner Tom Gores, senior adviser Ed Stefanski and coach Dwane Casey cannot be fooled by one brief playoff appearance. Drummond and Reggie Jackson draw criticism for inconsistent effort, rightly so. But except for Griffin and rising Luke Kennard, how have the Pistons ended up with such a dearth of quality shooters? They were 29th in the NBA in field-goal percentage, ahead of only the Knicks, and 23rd in 3-point percentage (34.8). It’s staggering when you see the Bucks’ array of deep shooters, and superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t even one of them.
The Bucks space the floor, drive the lane and kick it out for open shots, and lead the league in points. The Pistons clog the lane with Drummond, force Griffin to facilitate and usually are firing as the shot clock ticks toward zero. Casey and Griffin strike admirable chords of patience and optimism, but at this point you wonder if everyone’s just talking themselves into feeling better.
“Andre’s gonna learn, and he’s doing a better job of it,” Casey said. “But he can’t let frustration get to him and bother him, and if you miss one, don’t compound it. He’ll make those shots, it’s part of his growth, especially in a playoff atmosphere where everything is magnified, every possession, every shot, every camera is on you. Learning to grow in that situation is the next step of his career.”
The Pistons have lost by double digits in the first three games but they're not throwing in the towel on the series. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
'He's an anchor for us'
Griffin also strongly defended Drummond, as a leader will. And while Drummond played very well at times this season, the Pistons are nearing the point where some realities must be acknowledged. With two years and $56 million left on Drummond’s contract, a trade wouldn’t be easy. He’s also a favorite of Gores’, but that shouldn’t be an impediment to overhauling the roster.
Griffin has earned the right in a year-and-a-half here to have a say in the team’s future (and his own future). And while he likes Drummond and appreciates elements of his game, he has to realize how restricted the Pistons’ offense becomes.
“I told Andre at one point in the second quarter, he seemed a little bit frustrated, he might’ve just rushed a few,” Griffin said. “We’ve leaned on the big fella all season long and he’s a big reason we’re in the playoffs and where we are today.
"One game you could say was subpar, but that doesn’t distract us from the fact that he’s an anchor for us.”
An anchor can be a confusing metaphor. From one view, it steadies a ship and keeps it in place. From another view, it prevents the ship from moving forward.
If the Pistons’ long-term goal is to win a ‘ship, they have tough decisions ahead. They snuck into the playoffs at 41-41 and drew the top team in the league, and the collision has been ugly. The Pistons have gotten a taste of the postseason all right, a bloody, tooth-jarring taste. It’s pretty much what everyone expected, but that doesn’t mean it should be accepted without consequence.
Pistons vs. Bucks
Game 1: Bucks 121, Pistons 86
Game 2: Bucks 120, Pistons 99
Game 3: Bucks 119, Pistons 103
Game 4: Bucks at Pistons, 8 p.m. Monday (FSD, TNT/950)
*Game 5: Pistons at Bucks, Wednesday, April 24
*Game 6: Bucks at Pistons, Friday, April 26
*Game 7: Pistons at Bucks, Sunday, April 28