Detroit — In what could be among its final days, the Andre Drummond era is ending quietly.
The eighth-year center, mired in many rumors as the NBA's trade deadline approaches, sat and watched as the Pistons fought back hard but couldn't close out a comeback against New Orleans, falling 117-110 in overtime Monday at Little Caesars Arena.
The Pistons hit the season's halfway point with 14 wins, and are on track for its worst season in what's been a long decade, most of which has had Drummond as the centerpiece.
Drummond sat the final 20 minutes, 29 seconds, but coach Dwane Casey did not single out the star center, only saying the players in the closing lineups earned their spots.
"I thought the group out there was playing hard, and that's why the players that didn't play weren't out there at the end," Casey said.
Jahlil Okafor scored 25 points and had 14 rebounds, and Nicolo Melli added a career-high 20 points to lead the Pelicans. The post pair came in combining to score 12.9 points per game but were forced into action and responded.
Lonzo Ball had 17 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists for the Pelicans, who were without most of their top players, including franchise cornerstone Zion Williamson, who has not played yet this season because of a knee injury.
The Pistons can relate, as injuries have decimated an already thin roster. At 14-27, the Pistons are on pace for the worst record since coach John Kuester led Detroit to a 27-55 mark in 2009-10, his first season.
Drummond, who was drafted in 2012, finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds after playing just 22 minutes and none in the fourth quarter or overtime. He was ejected in the third quarter of Saturday’s loss to Chicago.
Meanwhile, rookie Sekou Doumbouya tied his career high with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds. He started and got crunch time defensive minutes, though most of the shots went to Derrick Rose and Christian Wood, reserves who paced the Pistons in scoring with 23 and 18 points, respectively.
"The message is that guys that were in there at the end played hard, to everybody, not just to Andre," Casey said. "Those guys came in and competed, earned the right to finish the game. There was no trying to send a message. We were just trying to find five or six men to go in there and compete and play hard. Because that's what we are. From here on, as long as we're here, is a hard-playing team."
Doumbouya and Svi Mykhailiuk earned minutes down the stretch alongside Rose and Langston Galloway, who wore LSU shoes in honor of his home state's football team and had three stitches above his left eye after taking a charge.
"I was just trying to motivate those guys to make the most of their opportunities," Galloway said. "I remember when I was in that position, when I was in New York. You might be in there for one or two minutes, but you've got to make the most of those opportunities because they don't come too often."
The Pelicans dominated on the glass, grabbing 61 rebounds to Detroit's 43, and limiting the Pistons to five offensive rebounds.
Rose fought the Pistons back from a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but couldn't close the deal.
New Orleans took its largest lead when a Ball layup made it 93-77 with 11:01 to play.
The Pistons surged though, as a 16-4 run was punctuated by a Doumbouya dunk and Rose drive to make it 97-93 with 5:34 to play.
The Pistons cut the lead to two points twice in the final minutes, but E’Twaun Moore (16 points) responded with a bucket the first time. Moore missed a fallaway jumper the next time, but Wood missed badly on a shot in the lane to tie in the final minute.
After a stop, Rose drove and floated one in from the baseline to tie the game with 30.1 seconds left.
Moore missed two more shots, then Rose missed on an isolation drive and the game to overtime, the Pistons second extra session in three games after deciding the first 38 games in regulation.
Doumbouya scored on a nice floater in overtime, but the Pelicans scored nine of the first 11 overtime points, taking a 111-104 lead with 2:03 left.
Rose committed two turnovers in overtime with the Pistons barely clinging to life, and Melli sent the fans home with a jumper.
Mykhailiuk had 13 points, and Bruce Brown added 12 points in starting roles.
On the flip side, Markieff Morris has struggled since returning from injury. In Saturday’s loss to Chicago, Morris missed all seven of his field-goal attempts, then he missed his first eight on Monday. Morris finished 2-of-12 with seven points.
"Conditioning," Casey said of his struggles. "I think it's just rust from being out two weeks.
"Those shots, he was knocking down before he got hurt, and he's trying to get it. The days between games, he's working. But when the games come, it's a different speed. He'll get it back. He's not going to forget how to knock down those shots, it's just going to take a little time."
Okafor dominated Drummond in the first half, scoring 19 points. Wood held his former New Orleans teammate in check down the stretch.
"You got to make him take tough, long-range shots," Wood said. "I felt like our effort wasn't there early, Jahlil got going early in the first.
"We picked it up in the second half, but at the time it was a too little, too late."
The Pistons start a three-game road trip at Boston on Wednesday, then travel to Atlanta on Saturday and then play a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee Monday in Washington.
It was the third straight Pistons loss in a stretch of winnable games that could've changed the course of the season.
Alas, with 41 games left, this one appears headed in just one direction.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.