Brook Lopez of the Nets and Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons show the center position is still one that can be a game-changer in the NBA.
Drummond is putting up big numbers, averaging 17.2 points and 15.0 rebounds per game, while Lopez is having a quality season with averages of 20.1 points and 8.5 rebounds.
For years, the role of a center has been in decline as teams are playing different styles. The Miami Heat won championships in 2012 and 2013 without a true center on the floor.
They are not the only strong centers in the NBA, with DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings and Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets dominating out west.
Lopez and Drummond lived up to the billing on Monday night, when they squared off at Barclays Center.
The highlight of the game was Brandon Jennings and Drummond coming in on a two-on-one and Jennings passing it off the glass to Drummond for an electrifying dunk.
Jennings said of what inspired the pass for the dunk, “New York City. You know, why not? We did one in LA. Now we did one in New York.”
Drummond finished with 21 points (10-15 FG) and 18 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end.
Lopez led the Nets with 27 points on 13-for-19 from the field, but just five rebounds. He has been on a tear over his past five games, averaging 26.4 points and, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks.
The Nets led 57-54 at the half, but the Pistons came out strong in the third quarter and opened up a 75-65 lad at the 3:37 mark of the third on the Drummond dunk described above.
The Nets did not give up though, as they closed the third on a 10-3 run to cut Detroit’s lead to 78-75 entering the fourth.
In the fourth, Lopez had seven points, including a three-point play with 2:55 left that gave them a 96-94 lead.
Lopez said of what he changed in his play to be more aggressive in the fourth, “That was just the way the game went. I was just trying to be aggressive when I got it and I think we are all doing a good job of that. When we are getting looks, we are taking them. That’s obviously the first rule to making shots, you have to take them.
Detroit took over from that point on, led by Reggie Jackson’s seven points in the final few minutes to lead the Pistons to a 105-100 win.
Drumond had what turned into the game-winning dunk with 1:30 left that made it 100-98 Detroit.
Lopez said of Drummond, “I didn’t do a great job with Drummond. He got some easy ones and I tried to wrap him up there at the end of the game and make him earn it at the line, but it is something that definitely was a focus tonight, and obviously they’re great when it comes to that.”
Lopez said of the last few possessions for Detroit, “They made some good plays. You’ve got to tip your hat to them. Reggie (Jackson) made some big buckets. We got a couple good looks, (every) shot didn’t go down, but we were definitely pleased with it.”
The Pistons finished with 52 points in the paint, compared to 44 for the Nets.
For the Nets, Shane Larkin was a bright spot with 14 assists off the bench. That is the most assists for a reserve off the bench thus season and the most since Jeff Teague of Atlanta had 15 assists off the bench in a game against the Nets at Barclays Center on March 17, 2013.
Nets Interim Head Coach Tony Brown said of what looks they were able to get and what fell through defensively at the end of the game, “I have to look at the film, but it seemed like there were a couple of stretches where we kind of over dribbled a little bit too much and it kind of took us out of the rhythm of the set we were trying to run. I think one play out of the timeout, we got Brook deep in the paint and he got a dunk and we had another wrinkle for that the second time we ran it but we could never get to it. Next thing you know, Joe (Johnson) is stuck with the ball, Brook is trying to post up on the sideline and the weak side action that we had drawn up never came into play. So we have to do better with that. I have to put them in better situations, but the target was to go to him and got to finish the game that way.”