Andre Drummond sized up LaMarcus Aldridge at the corner of the free-throw line and took three deliberate dribbles, each one by the Lakers center pushing the Brooklyn Nets center deeper and deeper into the lane. And then in one quick motion, Drummond overpowered Aldridge and scored on a layup while being fouled.
It was bully basketball at its best and it was Drummond providing it for the Lakers.
After he had scored on this play in the third quarter, he lowered his right hand, which is the signal by the 6-foot-10, 279-pound Drummond that the 6-11, 250-pound Aldridge was too small to deal with all that force.
“It was a good basket,” Drummond said on Zoom after producing a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds. “It was a good basket by me and I’m not one to talk down on other players. I mean, it was the heat of the moment. That’s my signature that I do when I score on people and get an and-one, so nothing towards LaMarcus intentionally. It’s just what I do, no matter who is out there, it’s happening. He can be taller than me or not, I’m still going to say he’s smaller than me.”
LeBron James (right ankle), Anthony Davis (strained right calf) and Kyle Kuzma (left calf strain), all of whom were out with injuries, stood and flexed their muscles after Drummond had dominated Aldridge on that play.
More than ever, the short-handed Lakers needed Drummond to provide a lift for them on Saturday night.
Wesley Matthews (right Achilles tendon tightness) and Marc Gasol (left hamstring soreness) were also out.
“He can do that against opposing centers,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said about Drummond’s powerful play. “He can beat them up with his physicality, on the post or on drives, on the offensive glass and then he can more than hold his own and guard his position defensively as well as all the pick-and-roll defensive coverages that we put him [in] as well. He’s a two-way player and it’s a great sign to see him stepping up as a leader the way he did tonight.”
Later in the third, Drummond took on the role of motivator for his teammates after Dennis Schroder was ejected from the game with 9:41 left in the quarter after getting his second technical foul in sequence, the same as Nets guard Kyrie Irving.
The Lakers had lost 19 points Schroder had up to that point.
“Yeah, I pulled the guys together after that happened and I told them, I said, ‘Listen, we can’t play like this. We can’t allow them to get momentum right now. We need to lock in defensively, not worry about offense because you know they’re going to come out with a full head of steam based off of the last play that just happened,’ ” Drummond said. “So, we came out, locked in defensively and the offense took care of itself.”
The Lakers led 66-62 when Schroder was tossed but finished the third with a 92-71 lead.
“Yeah, I think it’s just a great early sign of his leadership with this group,” Vogel said. “We want everybody to…We want our team to lead from every chair in the room, you know what I mean? It’s not just LeBron and AD, and to see him stepping up is a great early sign for us.”
There was another play in which Drummond had the basketball near the free-throw line and his dribble was still alive when he took a few more and rolled past Aldridge for a left-handed layup early in the first quarter.
Drummond was doing his part in the Lakers’ surprising 126-101 win over the Nets, his eight-for-15 shooting from the field and four for six from the free-throw line significant.
“For me, just playing my game,” he said. “Playing my game. Paying attention to the scouting report, seeing who is guarding me and where I need to be on the floor to be most effective. And today was just being the enforcer on both ends of the court.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.