Detroit — Andre Drummond tried to laugh it off, the gut reaction to a performance that has come to define his season. In Game 3 on Saturday night, he was struggling to even get the shortest of shots to go through the hoop. He was sped up and most of the crowd of Pistons fans in the sold-out Little Caesars Arena were fed up.
In the Pistons’ best chance to turn the tide of the series — and with Blake Griffin’s return to the starting lineup after missing 10 days — the anticipation was there.
The production wasn’t.
Drummond was too amped up and he was off-kilter.
After the game, he looked to turn the page to Monday’s Game 4, the potential series finale, if they couldn’t turn things around.
Coach Dwane Casey had a clear message for Drummond, not just for Game 4, but moving forward in how to focus on high-stakes games.
“Keep it simple. This is a bigger role than he has had since the last time he was in the playoffs and you do get caught trying to do too much. You can’t win the game by yourself,” Casey said before Monday’s game. “Our whole philosophy is when you drive in the paint and catch on a screen-and-roll, the play probably isn’t for you, the way Lopez is (defending) the pick-and-roll.
“It’s probably going to be a kick-out or if you do go up, take the top of the banners and the top of the score clock down when you go to dunk it. You can’t finesse it because Lopez is so big.”
In his seven seasons in the league, this is just Drummond’s second playoff trip and he’s yet to notch a postseason win. Casey emphasized getting more experience and trying to find a rhythm and focus as the next steps in Drummond’s maturation process.
Even if the starting point is just one playoff win, whether it’s this season or next, more opportunities are going to be a benefit.
“Great learning experience. Andre has played excellent basketball this entire year and it’s a career year for him,” Casey said. “Learning to play in the moment, be in the moment and be consistent and keeping it simple is what he should do.”
It’s a difficult defensive assignment to face the Bucks’ Brook Lopez, but Drummond is focusing more on the mental part of the game and maintaining his focus on the game plan and contributing in whatever way he can.
Griffin’s return in Game 3 meant a different defender against the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, the likely league MVP. Casey noted that it wasn’t just Griffin’s size, but his experience and savvy that were his biggest keys in defending Antetokounmpo.
“Blake is a star in our league also and his physicality and know-how, even though, he’s limited in what he can do, he did an excellent job in playing the angles and playing the tendencies of Giannis,” Casey said. “Giannis is a great player, and nobody is going to stop him one-on-one; it’s a team defensive approach and we did a better job of being where we were supposed to be and still it was a struggle.”
Even with Antetokounmpo playing well below his customary level of production, the Bucks were formidable. It’s another sign that the Bucks could be the best-balanced team in the East and the Pistons just have an uphill climb to stay close for a half — not even measuring to win a game in the series.
Griffin was listed as probable — an upgrade over previous games — and started Game 4, to another raucous introduction in the starting lineup. Drummond, who had been booed in Game 3, got some cheers in intros, as well as when he made his first basket in the game.