AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (NBA.com exclusive) -- Ben Wallace embodied extra effort and grit during his first stint with the Detroit Pistons. He's doing it again during the twilight of his career and the rest of his undermanned club is following his lead.
Wallace scored just two points in the Pistons' 88-81 victory over Philadelphia on a Sunday afternoon, but he showed his team how it could win without Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton. Wallace grabbed a season-high 16 rebounds, including nine of Detroit's 21 offensive boards.
He also had three blocks and three steals and spearheaded a defensive effort that held the 76ers to 43.6 percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers.
"He's amazing," said Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva, who scored 16 points. "He's 35 years old. I have something to look up to now. When I hit 35, hopefully I can do the things he does."
When Wallace re-signed with the Pistons during the offseason, it seemed more like a nice gesture than a basketball-related move. He looked washed up in Cleveland last season, but in the early going this season, he has played like the four-time Defensive Player of the Year award-winner he was earlier this decade. The Pistons lead the league in defensive field-goal percentage, even though Prince has missed four games with a small rupture of a disc in his lower back and Hamilton has sat out six games with a badly sprained right ankle.
Both are out indefinitely.
"I knew Ben would be an asset talking to our bigs," coach John Kuester said. "I never imagined the impact he would have playing. Right now, he looks like the old Ben. He's leading by example."
Rookies Jonas Jerebko and Austin Daye, who are sharing the small forward spot in place of Prince when Kuester doesn't use three-guard sets, combined for 17 points. Kuester went with his smaller look in the final 7:17 after the Sixers rallied from a nine-point deficit late in the third to take a 72-71 lead.
Willie Green's jumper gave Philadelphia its biggest lead at 77-73 with 6:02 left before the Pistons roared back with a 13-2 run. Gordon (23 points) had six points during that stretch while Will Bynum (eight points, eight assists) contributed a basket and two assists.
Villanueva fittingly capped off the decisive run with a putback layup. Detroit, which had a 27-13 advantage in second-chance points, needs to scrap and scrounge for points until it gets healthy.
"I thought the story of the game is that we could not rebound the ball," Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan said. "If there were eight things we had to do well tonight, we did seven of them right and we just couldn't rebound the ball."
The Pistons were able to get away with playing three guards defensively because point guard Rodney Stuckey held the Sixers' Andre Iguodala to 1-for-4 shooting in the fourth quarter. Stuckey didn't let his 5-for-15 shooting bother him.
"He knows no matter what happens offensively, he's got to bring that every time," Kuester said. "One thing I'm very proud about Rodney is he doesn't allow his offense to affect his defense."
Kuester placed an unusual amount of importance on this game after road losses to Toronto and Orlando.
"Dean Smith always said something that stuck with me. It's always better to win and learn from your mistakes than lose and learn from your mistakes," he said. "That's one of the things this group needed. We know we have to control tempo right now but this group needs to taste some success."
The Sixers got nice lifts from reserves Green and Marreese Speights, who combined for 28 points, but their frontcourt starters -- Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert -- had just 20 points and failed to block out at either end.
"We just didn't finish some plays in the paint we should have finished, even early in the game," Jordan said. "We had some breaks we didn't finish, some rolls to the basket we didn't finish, some putbacks we didn't finish - plays that you have to make on the road to win."
Brand was just 1-for-6 in the second half, a tribute to the defensive blanket thrown on him by Wallace and Kwame Brown (seven points, eight rebounds). If Wallace keeps this up, the Pistons might survive this difficult stretch without their top wing players.
"Seems like he's at home here in Detroit," Gordon said. "Playing for (Chicago and Cleveland) the last few years, it never seemed like he was at home. You can tell Big Ben is definitely at home here."