J.J. Redick, Wesley Johnson, Jamal Crawford.
These were the individuals that hit dagger three-pointers in the Clippers' late overtime win against the Pistons on Monday night. Despite climbing back into the game after an awful second quarter, and 14 first half turnovers, the Pistons' defense couldn't hold together in key moments, the worst of which was when Andre Drummond gambled for a steal on Blake Griffin and gave the Clippers a wide open three to eventually win the game.
Mistakes like this remind me just how young and inexperienced this team really is - especially Drummond, which is why I'm weirdly OK with the loss.
Think about this. Between the first game against the Clippers in LA, the Washington game, the Memphis half-court heave, and last night - this is a team that could easily be 18-8.
Now breathe through the sting of that reality just for a second, and take a step back with me to look at this big picture. The Pistons are only a little more than a quarter through this season, with a revamped roster, and still playing above .500 despite all the aforementioned tough losses. I have been kicking myself every single day of this season for not flying to Vegas and putting my life savings on their pre-season over/under.
But these tough losses are normal stepping stones in the league. Teams in the NBA, especially young ones that are mostly built through the draft, all have to suffer through a developmental progression to become better/eventual contenders. The Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors of the world, young cohesive teams, have all gone down similar roads the Pistons are currently experiencing: staying in games, and losing heartbreakers. I know it might be too early to be making comparisons to playoff teams, but the similarities are there. All of these teams will talk about their early playoff exits or tough losses as learning experiences.
And Monday night the Pistons got treated to a major defensive learning experience. Especially Andre Drummond. I am not one for putting losses on any one individual, there's a list of key plays missed that ultimately affected the outcome of last night's game, but Dre's defensive gamble perhaps is the most obvious blemish.
This was a huge opportunity for Drummond's growing star to shine even brighter. In the lead up to the game, the story was about Andre vs. DeAndre Jordan, a matchup that Drummond handily won for the most part -- 15 boards, 20 points, and 3 steals in comparison to Jordans 14 boards and 7 points. Hell, he even crossed up Chris Paul! But instead, we're having to discuss his gamble, and how it broke down the entire Pistons defensive plan (forcing Marcus Morris to slide down into the paint) and leaving Crawford wide open for the eventual game-winning three.
Never mind the fact that Drummond then had two point-blank, Drummond-patented, tip in opportunities after the missed Reggie free throw. Missing those tip-ins I can live with. It's going for the steal on Griffin that hurts more.
Defensive basketball is all about discipline, if you need proof of this look at Golden State's championship run or the Spurs, their offense is fueled by a super-disciplined defense where players stick with assignments, all rotate on help, and close out on shooters. It's not about gambling for steals, but more about making the offenses job as hard as possible. And that's what Drummond's mistake didn't do. It did not make it harder for the Clippers to score in an overtime where neither team had good offensive footing, it only made it easier.
Drummond becoming the superstar center we thought he could be has been one of the best parts of this young season. But by becoming the face of the franchise Drummond is now the one that is praised loudest in victory, and reprimanded the most in defeat - hence Big Stan calling him out after the game. It's a reality Drummond will have to get used to in Detroit. This is an interesting hurdle for Andre, being called out by his coach for a defensive lapse that ultimately cost his team the game. There's no Josh Smith or Greg Monroe to take blame now, it is all on him. Now the question becomes, how does our franchise center respond after this.
There are better days ahead for Drummond, and when the sting of this loss passes, I think we will eventually look back at this as just a young mistake in a superstar career. Saying that is a gamble I can live with.