Andre Drummond, all 6 foot 10 and 279 pounds of him, lumbered down the court after he had gotten a steal, the Lakers center blowing by the Utah Jazz defenders who dared to get in the way, intent on inflicting pain on the rim.
When Drummond got close to the basket, Utah’s Joe Ingles slowed down and watched Drummond waltz in for a powerful one-handed dunk.
Drummond celebrated with a roar and throwing both hands in the air, his teammates joining the celebration by leaping out of their seats.
Later in the third quarter, Drummond simply stole the ball away from Ingles on the wing, pushed the basketball ahead, gained control and did a 360-degree spin around Ingles for a layup. Now tired, Drummond rolled toward the Lakers’ sideline and was wrapped in a hug by assistant coach Phil Handy.
Drummond was a force for the Lakers on offense and defense in his best performance with the team, helping push Los Angeles past the Jazz 127-115 in overtime Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.
His stat line was impressive: 27 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and one blocked shot. He was 10 for 15 from the field and an impressive sevenof eight from the free-throw line.
“I think tonight was a good game for all of us,” Drummond said during his postgame videoconference. “For me personally, I think it was a pretty solid game. I just played my game. I’m just out there to help this team the best way I can. As a unit, we clicked on all cylinders.”
Drummond’s play in the third quarter was big. He had 10 points, missing just one of his six shots.
His two steals were important.
“Man, you know that’s something that I’m very good at, which is getting into passing lanes and get my hand on the pick and rolls to steal the ball,” Drummond said. “To have that happen three times was definitely very tiring to have that happen going back and forth, back and forth, side to side, so I definitely was very exhausted when that timeout did come. So, I’m glad Phil was there to catch me.”
It was going to be a challenge for Drummond on defense because Utah played an offense in which all five of its players were outside the three-point line and there was no center on the court playing down low — centers Rudy Gobert (bruised right knee) and Derrick Favors (right knee soreness) sidelined.
Though Drummond was holding his own, Lakers coach Frank Vogel took his center out of the game late in the fourth.
But when the overtime started, Drummond was on the court.
He played all five minutes and scored six points while grabbing four rebounds. His two free throws with 56.5 seconds left sealed the game.
“He rewarded my trust by putting him back in there in the overtime by really dominating the overtime — with blocked shots and boards and finishing at the rim, even making his free throws when they tried to foul him,” Vogel said on a videoconference. “Just a great night for Drum and the first real positive night I think in a Lakers uniform for him, so I’m super happy for him.”
Drummond had missed the previous game against the Boston Celtics here because of a bruised right big toe, the one he bruised in his debut and had the toenail ripped off.
It bothers him at times, but Drummond said that he will “be fine.”
The two free throws Drummond made with 56.5 seconds left in overtime gave the Lakers a 126-115 lead.
He had been intentionally fouled by the Jazz, but Drummond, a notoriously bad free-throw shooter (46.8% for his career, 62.5% this season), made Utah pay.
“Just the focus, just the focus,” Drummond said about his improved free-throw shooting. “I know that that’s something that I have against me throughout my career and I’ve gotten better at it throughout my career. And being here now having a clean slate with no extra people talking in my ear, can just focus being at the line and shooting the shot I know I can make.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.