After learning today that their All-Star forward Blake Griffin will be ending his season to have surgery on his left knee, the Detroit Pistons were left reeling from the demoralizing news. The game against the Cleveland Cavaliers started off a bit rough as the Pistons were down by 15 points in the first half. But after halftime, they rallied an exhilarating comeback and snatched a win over the Cavaliers. As we always do here at POP after a Detroit Piston’s game, here are our 3 observations from tonight’s win over the Cavs.
Observation One: Drummond Plays BIG in the First Half
The last five days for Andre Drummond have probably been one of the more draining five days stretches that he has experienced in his NBA career as a Detroit Piston. Since Friday, reports surfaced that the Pistons were in discussions with multiple teams about trading the two-time All-Star. Reports came in today, expressing confirmation that the Pistons will be successful in trading Drummond by the Feb. 7th NBA Trade Deadline.
With his name at the center of trade-talks, you would think that Drummond would be a bit emotional and unfocused as he deals with all the reports of his team that he has been with for over 8 years trying to trade him…but that wasn’t the case tonight. Drummond showed up tonight in Cleveland, ready to do battle.
He played to his strengths – which is play bigger than anyone else on the court. With Blake Griffin no longer playing the rest of the season due to season-ending knee surgery, he took over the responsibilities of being the catalyst on offense. He was aggressive down-low, methodically surveying the court and who was guarding him. He constantly attacked whoever was defending him, always looking for contact to absorb, using his much larger frame to punish his opponents and create space to score under the basket. By halftime, he already had accumulated 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Unfortunately, though, his effort tapered off a bit once the third quarter began. He only scored six points in the second half, finishing the game with 23 points, 20 rebounds in 38 minutes of play. You would’ve liked to see him continue to punish the Cavaliers a bit more as they physically had trouble boxing him out and guarding him in the post. If the reports about Detroit trading Andre Drummond are true and he does get traded before the trade deadline, you can assure those performances from him like tonight’s game will be greatly appreciated and he will be missed.
Observation Two: Sekou’s Steady Ascension
We can all admit that this season for the Pistons has not been the best and has been underwhelming, to say the least. But the one thing that has brought some excitement to this franchise has been the inspiring and impressive play of Piston’s rookie Sekou Doumbouya. After coming off a five-game west coast road trip, Doumbouya received his first start against the Los Angeles Clippers and was tasked with guarding reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, and was then assigned to guard All-Star forward Draymond Green and four-time MVP Lebron James. Against these elite level players, Doumbouya held his own against them all.
His steady ascension in his play has warranted more minutes from Pistons Head Coach Dwane Casey and Doumbouya just continues to flourish in his role. He is still adjusting to the style of play of the NBA, but he is starting to turn heads in Detroit and gaining praise for having a sense of poise and decorum in the way that he plays the game. Tonight, was no different as he logged in 33 minutes, scored 15 points, shooting 6-9 from the field.
Doumbouya is continuously showing his ability to be a difference-maker while also playing within himself and sticking to the rivers and lakes that he is used to (shameless TLC song reference). Even though he is displaying that he can shoot the ball well, he still finds ways to sneak and cut to the basket for an easy score. His hustle on the defensive side is his most admirable quality because he gives his team a player that can defend up to four positions on the court, making him a versatile player that you can plug-and-play.
He even gave fans a bit of a show as he provided a nice posterization on Cleveland Cavalier’s center Tristian Thompson. Sekou Doumbouya is starting to become the darling of the franchise…and I’m glad we are all here to witness it.
Observation Three: A Tale of Two Halves
Watching the Pistons play tonight was like watching two completely different teams.
The first half was decent for Detroit, but they were struggling defensively. Cleveland at times seemed as if they were outsmarting Detroit with their backdoor cuts to the basket. Detroit struggled to control the ball in their hands. Even though they turned the ball over only five times in the first half, and nine times for the entire game, those mistakes were still costly. Those mistakes allowed a younger Cavaliers team to build momentum, and as their shots started to fall (59.1% shooting in the first half), their confidence started to swell and they played more aggressively than the Pistons.
Cleveland held the largest lead of the game with 15 points.
But once the Pistons came back on the court to start the second half, they played like an entirely different team. They switched from playing man-to-man to a zone defense, which confused Cleveland and forced them to commit consecutive turnovers to start the third quarter.
On a night when Detroit is without some of their best players due to injuries and being down by 15 points at one point in the game, it would’ve been easy for the team to just submit to defeat and try to hurry up and end the game and head back home to Detroit. But they didn’t, they dug deep within themselves and forced the Cavaliers to make mistakes, and the Pistons capitalized off those mistakes. Even when Cleveland cleaned up their act to start the third quarter, Detroit still kept fighting and remained composed and with the help of Derrick Rose, 24 points, to help close the gap and eventually take control of the lead. Defensive stops towards the end of the game are what helped seal the win for them.
This team is learning how to win without some of their best players playing. Detroit is starting to realize the type of talent that they have around them in the absence of Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard, and Reggie Jackson. The younger players are starting to discover themselves and create a niche on this team that they can excel in. Yes, every game will not be as exciting or winnable, but even in losses, there are lessons that can be won.
Featured Image: David Liam Kyle/Cleveland Cavaliers