MEMPHIS, Tenn. (NBA.com exclusive) -- Prior to coaching his first NBA game Wednesday night for the Detroit Pistons, John Kuester admitted to having a stomach full of butterflies.
After watching guards Ben Gordon and Richard Hamilton sink an array of jumpers in the second quarter at Memphis, those butterflies quickly exited FedExForum. Gordon, one of the Pistons top free-agent acquisitions last summer, had an impressive debut, scoring 22 points off the bench. Hamilton added a game-high 25 as the new-look Pistons breezed to a 96-74 win as the Grizzlies lost their ninth straight season opener since moving to Memphis from Vancouver prior to the 2001-02 season.
"I thought we did a great job,'' Kuester said. "We held them under 38 percent tonight. The team was really focused. I thought Memphis came out strong in the beginning of the game and our guys kept taking the punches. They were very resilient in regards to how they competed for every possession. I was very proud of the way we played tonight.''
If there was any doubts as to whether or not Gordon and Hamilton could play together, those questions were answered in the second quarter. With Detroit taking a 24-20 lead into the second period, Gordon and Hamilton combined to score 21 of the team's 29 points in the period. As a team, the Pistons made 13 of 18 shots in the period to open up a 53-41 halftime lead.
"I think if you look at Rip and myself, we're guys who a lot of offense comes off catch-and-shoot stuff,'' Gordon said. "We don't really need to have the basketball in our hands to be effective.''
While the Pistons displayed much more firepower than they did a year ago, they still managed to exhibit their trademark defense. After watching the Grizzlies make eight of their first 16 shots in the opening period, Detroit suffocated the young Grizzlies the rest of the way.
Memphis finished the game shooting 36.1 percent (26 of 72), not exactly the kind of start Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins wanted to see his team get off to.
"It was generally a bad night shooting,'' Hollins said. "I am very disappointed for our team and for our fans, especially with all the excitement generated around the city. They just have to come down to earth and realize that winning in the NBA is very difficult and it takes a lot of work and effort. Our young guys were like deer in the headlights, but win or lose, this game will not make our season.''
That's going to be a tough sell to a fan base that has seen their team post three straight losing seasons, none of which has yielded more than 24 wins. With key off-season acquisitions of their own, namely forward Zach Randolph and perennial all-star guard Allen Iverson, hope filled the city that this season would be different. But Iverson was on the bench in street clothes, still nursing a hamstring he suffered during training camp. Randolph had a modest first game as a Grizzly, scoring 14 points to go along with nine rebounds.
The Grizzlies, who have now lost to Detroit in eight of their last nine meetings, were led by second-year center Marc Gasol, who had 21 points and 15 rebounds. Rudy Gay added 16 points.
"I'll give Detroit credit,'' Randolph said. "Richard and Ben were on fire tonight and made tough shots. It's a tough night. We're real disappointed. We need to do what we've been doing. We worked so hard this preseason.''
The Pistons also got 14 points from Tayshaun Prince and 12 from point guard Rodney Stuckey. Their bench outscored the Grizzlies bench, 35-11, thanks to Gordon.
They also got some bad news as Hamilton sprained his right ankle with less than five minutes remaining in the game. He will be re-evaluated Thursday in Detroit.