SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers breaks down all the playoff action from Saturday night’s slate of games.
It didn’t look good. There’s no arguing that.
Not when you break a cardinal rule in basketball by closing out on a shooter with your hands down. Which is what Andre Drummond did Saturday night in the second quarter of Game 3, trying to chase Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez.
Though Drummond didn’t just close out with his hands down.
He closed at half speed.
It gave the Little Caesars Arena crowd a reason to boo, which Drummond later said he didn’t hear, then dismissed the reporter who asked the question by suggesting it was a “bad question.”
Well, no, it’s not. It’s a fair question.
Because it can’t be easy to get dissed by the crowd 30 minutes after it was roaring in anticipation of the team’s first home playoff game in three years.
But then Drummond has heard booing before. Even if he doesn’t like to admit it.
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The 25-year-old center struggled Saturday night as the Bucks beat the Pistons, 119-103, giving Milwaukee a 3-0 lead in the first-round playoff series. He shot 5-for-14 overall, 2-for-8 from the foul line, and had four turnovers and five fouls to go with 12 rebounds, four steals and three blocks — much of the production coming late in the fourth when the game was already decided.
He couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. He couldn’t make a two-foot bunny.
And when he let his 2-for-10 beginning affect his defense? Well, the crowd took it out on him.
I don’t blame it. They’ve seen it before.
Yet … they haven’t seen it in a while.
Even as Drummond’s drooping shoulders and long face played into the old trope about his effort, he has played ferociously for most of the last two months. In fact, he has played the best basketball of his career.
So it was a surprise to see old habits resurface. If you thought he was past that, he is not, at least in the playoffs.
“Andre missed some bunnies and chippies and I thought it bothered him a little bit,” said Pistons head coach Dwane Casey. “And he carried it down to the other end.”
Casey insists his (still) young center showed growth this season. I don’t think there is any question about that.
But now it’s time to take the next step. He can’t have another playoff night where he lets one end of the floor hurt the other.
“I was just too hyped up,” said Drummond. “It was hard to catch my rhythm after that … I wanted to make the play instead of making the (right) play.”
All that adrenaline led to rushing shots, which led to missing shots, which led to the sagging body language, which led to the poor optics.
Again, the reaction to it was understandable. Buoyed, no doubt, by a kind of confirmation bias.
Drummond created the bias, obviously. But he deserves credit for showing growth and trying to change how he’s perceived by changing how he plays.
He did that this year. He just had a bad night.
Yeah, he deserves criticism for his poor play. He also deserves that we try to put it in the context of this season.
“He’s busted his ass and played hard for this franchise. … We wouldn’t be where we are without him.”
Blake Griffin says Andre Drummond has “busted his ass” for Pistons franchise, after being asked about fans booing during Game 3 loss April 20, 2019.
Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press
Griffin, who missed the first two games of the series and returned Saturday night to drop 27 points, didn’t like the booing.
“You never want to hear that,” he said. “Especially from your home crowd. If that was directed at him personally, then I don’t really understand it.”
Well, it’s complicated.
And even though Griffin is the face of this team, Drummond remains its thermometer, the player everyone uses to gauge its temperature.
When he plays as he did the past couple of months, a warm future is easier to see. When he doesn’t? When he struggles as he did Saturday night?
And all of that is magnified in playoff games.
Playoff games, by the way, that Pistons owner Tom Gores has been craving. Though it’s hard to fathom this is what he imagined: Three straight blowouts. A crowd as amped and noisy as it has ever been at Little Caesars Arena. Booing.
A reminder — not that anyone needed it — of how far these Pistons have to go; Milwaukee is that good.
Still, Griffin’s return clearly lifted his team and, for a while, it felt like the old days. A packed arena. A rising crowd. Thundersticks. A roar with every bucket.
Inspired play from an overmatched team willed on by its faithful.
Frankly, it was electric, which tells us how desperate this town is for the Pistons to be a contender. Or at least for something more than a four-game snack for the Bucks.
But then Griffin still isn’t himself; he remains hobbled by a sore knee. And while his presence sent an early charge through his team and the crowd, the talent gap is still too much. Never mind that the Bucks’ best player, MVP candidate, Giannis Antetokounmpo, had just eight points at the half and finished with 14.
They didn’t need him. Must be nice.
Especially when a couple of former Pistons — Ersan Ilyasova and Khris Middleton — kept tossing in shots from the Detroit River; the pair combined for 35 points.
Hey, NBA players hurt their former teams all the time. And the current Pistons’ regime had nothing to do with either move — though Ilyasova wouldn’t be the same here and obviously benefits from playing with all the talent in Milwaukee.
Watching a player blossom somewhere else is never easy. It’s usually a reminder of where your team could be.
Yet this isn’t as hard as watching a player struggle in ways you thought might be behind him.
Which brings us back to Drummond, who was finally starting to look like an essential piece moving forward.
I think he still is. Despite the optics Saturday night.
For many, the optics were all that mattered. By the time Drummond picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and headed to the bench, some fans were fed up, and booed.
Until they started cheering sarcastically for his replacement — Zaza Pachulia.
The worst offense in sports is not trying. But that wasn’t Drummond’s issue Saturday.
It’s not that he doesn’t care. He does. Sometimes too, much.
Then he missed easy shots. Got down on himself. Slowed as he fretted over what he wasn’t doing.
He had a bad game. They happen, like Griffin said.
The trick is to step back, take a look, have a listen, and make sure missed shots don’t lead to a missed opportunity.
Do that and the booing will fade away again.