AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Andre Drummond wore a look of frustration as he sat on the bench throughout the final moments of the Detroit Pistons' 101-91 Game 3 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.
Who could blame him?
Everybody knows the fatal flaw of his game. It's on display every night -- only now it's on a larger stage for the world to see: Drummond is a poor free throw shooter. Historically bad. He's shooting 38 percent from the free throw line for his career and is 6-for-24 over the three games of this series. The talented, young big man played only 93 seconds of the final 12 minutes of Friday's game. Coach Stan Van Gundy pulled Drummond for good after he was intentionally fouled and missed two more free throws with the Pistons down 90-86 with 6:02 remaining. He just sat there and watched as the Cavaliers closed the game, and probably the series, without him on the floor. The win gave Cleveland a 3-0 series lead.
About 20 minutes after the game ended, Van Gundy sat at the podium wearing a similar look of anguish as Drummond. For the third straight game, Dummond, the Pistons' best player, was a non-factor down the stretch. When asked about his decision to not bring Drummond back in the game late, Van Gundy vented his anger toward both the center and the entire situation.
"Yeah, because you can't do anything with him," Van Gundy said. "He can't run to set a screen, he can't do anything. You've just got opportunities to foul him. Now would they have [worked]? I don't know. But I gave him one possession -- we're behind. We can't go down and play for zero points. Even though we did, we just, we can't do that. He had energy, but [Cavs center] Tristan Thompson had eight offensive rebounds. Hardly a dominant performance."
Van Gundy was angry about the fact that his team was outrebounded by 14. He was mad his young squad is on the verge of elimination, and he's upset because nobody seems to have the right answer to fix the question that has torpedoed Drummond's effectiveness late in games as it pertains to the Hack-a-Shaq tactic.
Van Gundy himself was asked about the issue earlier in the day. There seems to be momentum that the league may change the rule in the offseason, but to what? Nobody seems to know.
"You'd have to see what they do, what the change is, how the rule is written, and everything else," Van Gundy said after Friday's shootaround. "What we do as coaches is try to do whatever we can to win within the rulebook, so we'd have to see how it was written. My concern would be if they're going to change [the rule], they have to truly change it and you've got to make sure, you've really got to take some time and think of how coaches are going to get around it. And try to write the rule in such a way -- so you can say they just can't go grab guys.
"But now, if a guy, as he's running up to set a screen can just push him, and now that guy's on the line, well you really haven't accomplished anything with the rule. It all depends on how they write it. There could be things that really affect how people have to play those situations and take them away from being able to do it, or there could be cosmetic things that really don't have any effect and people will still be able to foul as much as they want."
For his part, Drummond seems stuck within the situation and admits it's "a little frustrating," sitting on the bench late in games, not being able to help his teammates.
"Stan knows what he's doing," Drummond said. "So I just try to do my part as a team player, cheer for my teammates. I don't control my minutes or what he does down the stretch in games. I just stay prepared and stay ready for when the moment comes."
Van Gundy can point to Drummond's seven rebounds, or Thompson's 10, or the fact that the Cavs set the tone defensively all he wants. There is merit to his points. But for the third playoff game in a row, Drummond was rendered a non-factor, at least in part, because he can't consistently make free throws. A star with so much talent is left watching other players finish games on the league's biggest stage.
"It's tough," Pistons guard Reggie Jackson admitted. "We understand we have one of our cornerstones just on the bench in tough stretches. Because they're going to the Hack-a-Shaq or whatever you want to call it, sending him to the line. It's been tough on him. He's trying to remain confident, of course, always putting in work and trying to find a way to affect the game in other ways. It's a call that Coach is making to try and give ourselves a chance. We've been trying to figure it out, how to get around it and beat them."
The problem for the Pistons is that they haven't figured out an answer. Trying to beat the Cavs with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love all playing at a high level is a tall task. Trying to beat Cleveland without Drummond playing a major role is a near impossibility.
"We're trying to figure out any way to combat it," Jackson continued. "But as a team we found a way to overcome adversity all season despite who's on the court, who may not be, and we've been getting it done collectively. [Drummond's] definitely a big essential part of what we do, the centerpiece of what we do and trying to find him more minutes, of course. I'm sure Coach is trying to find ways to keep him on the court and keep him effective because I think it's been noted and he's shown that he's really neutralizing their team when they have their bigs on the court as well."
Drummond can't neutralize anybody when he's on the bench -- except his own team's effectiveness. The Pistons have known this all season, but the lesson has been hammered home even more this week. As far as the future goes and whether or not the league is intent on changing the rule -- and by proxy helping Drummond and the Pistons out of their own self-created rut -- remains to be seen. Van Gundy wishes he had the right answer, but after watching his team falter down the stretch without its best player on the floor, he's got to wish he didn't even have to contemplate the question.
"To me, what it comes down to one way or another, and what it should come down to is the fans," Van Gundy said of a potential rule change. "If they like it, then we should keep it the way it is. If they don't, we should make a change. That's, to me, what it comes down to."
Van Gundy must hope that basketball fans get sick of watching one of the game's best young players finish games on the bench instead of on the floor.