Andre Drummond's 30-20 game drives Pistons past Pacers in season opener
Indianapolis — The Pistons didn’t have their full complement of players for the season opener.
They made do with what they had.
Even without Blake Griffin, who could miss the first 8-10 games, the Pistons played an inspired game. Led by Andre Drummond, and with help from Luke Kennard and Derrick Rose off the bench, they took an impressive 119-110 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
As he did last season, Drummond posted a 20-20 game in the opener, pouring in 32 points — one off his career high — with 23 rebounds, four blocks, three steals and two assists. He’s the first player in franchise history to post a 30-20 game in the season opener.
Kennard had 20 of his career-high 30 points in the final 14 minutes of the game, including back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the fourth quarter and a decisive 3-pointer for their largest lead of the game, 113-103, with 1:23 left.
It was a lead they didn’t relinquish.
“Luke came out in the second half and shot the ball well. Andre had a presence in the paint offensively and defensively,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “(Drummond) played 40 minutes, so he had a huge presence on both ends of the floor.”
Rose, in his Pistons debut, added 18 points and nine assists, picking up the scoring slack from a starting group that totaled only 30 points besides Drummond’s 32. Drummond and Kennard carried the load down the stretch, combining for 30 of the team’s 36 points in the fourth quarter.
“Luke and I have built a chemistry and bond throughout the years of being together. I know what he likes to do and when he wants to score, and when I should roll or set the screen,” Drummond said. “Now it’s more second nature whether it’s pick-and-roll or dribble handoff.”
Everything seemed to be working for them. They combined to go 20-of-31 from the field, including 12-of-18 from Drummond, who had a newfound face-up game on display that made him more effective on the perimeter, with his drives and finishes at the basket.
The Pistons held the lead through most of the first half, as the Pacers moved ahead in the final minute off a putback dunk by Myles Turner (25 points, nine rebounds) and a pair of free throws from Malcolm Brogdon (22 points, 11 assists). The Pacers had a 13-0 run midway through the third and had their largest lead, 73-64, at the 6:04 mark.
Trailing 86-83 in the final seconds of the third quarter, the Pistons started their comeback. Kennard hit a long 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left to pull within three. Drummond started the fourth with a driving lay-in, part of eight straight points that he scored for the Pistons to help tie it at 91 at the 9:03 mark.
“(Kennard) shot the ball well and the most important improvement was his defensive focus and effort,” Casey said. “That was huge for him to stay in the game and guard a guy like (Doug) McDermott and (Jeremy) Lamb to let us keep him in the game so he could score 30 points.”
Turner ended the run with a lay-in but Kennard added two free throws and a baseline fadeaway jumper to regain the lead. The Pacers looked to pull away, with an 8-0 run, with a three-point play by Domantas Sabonis (27 points, 13 rebounds) and another three-point play by Lamb, but the Pistons answered with a tip-in by Drummond and the consecutive 3-pointers by Kennard.
“My coaches and teammates keep encouraging me to be aggressive and they kept telling me I was passing up shots, but I didn’t notice it,” Kennard said. “They want me to shoot the ball when I have any kind of space.
“They found me when I was open, so credit to them.”
The Pistons put it away with a hook by Drummond and a 3-pointer by Kennard with 1:23 left, with six free throws in the final seconds for the final margin. Kennard went 3-of-4 from the free-throw line in the final minute and Drummond made two to finish 8-of-10 for the game.
“We never could contain Rose, their bench and Kennard,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “I thought Rose didn’t miss a shot in the first half, then Kennard in the second half, coming off the bench — we didn’t have an answer for guarding those guys.”