With the Pistons on the second half of a back-to-back and the Nets missing Brook Lopez, both teams already had pre-baked excuses for why they didn’t bring their best effort. For three quarters, neither one mattered, as the Nets and Pistons played an exciting, hotly contested game, pitting Detroit’s athleticism and playmaking against Brooklyn’s touch in the paint.
The marquee matchup should’ve been Lopez vs. Andre Drummond, which is a fun stylistic juxtaposition of centers. But with Lopez’s undisclosed virus keeping him on the bench, the Nets needed to find other ways to combat Drummond’s mass and strength, and all things considered, rookie Willie Reed and ten-day contract recipient Henry Sims did a decent job limiting Drummond from an omnipresent night to merely a “damn good” one.
Naturally, the Nets fouled Drummond early and often. Reed actually left the game within four minutes with foul trouble, but his fouls were not in vain, as Drummond didn’t make a free throw in the first half. But that weakness didn’t matter much, because Drummond proved early he was a load to handle for the Nets’ defense. Drummond’s threat rolling in the paint and ability to run the floor alone created open looks on the perimeter when he wasn’t throwing down dunks of his own. The Nets just don’t have a player to combat Drummond at his apex.
The Nets’ bench has been their Achilles heel this season, as the team often lost early leads when their backups entered the game. It only got worse when Lopez, who said he wanted to play spoiler to the playoff-hunting Pistons, became a late scratch. But the team was able to tread water behind Sean Kilpatrick’s offense, Sims’s competence, and one of those nights from Shane Larkin when he can get out in transition and create havoc without losing control.
But it all fell apart in the fourth, when Nets Killer Anthony Tolliver* (Note: I am not aware of anyone ever calling him that) knocked down a couple of threes, the Nets began fouling people that weren’t Andre Drummond, and Drummond’s backup Aron Baynes set a few shattering screens to carve space for himself and others.
Before you could blink, a 77-77 game became a 102-85 blowout, and the Pistons could ride it out without much fanfare or resistance.