McGrady’s strong play shines through in OT loss to Chicago
“It was going to be for T-Mac,” Kuester said after the Pistons made a hard run at a third straight win. “We wanted to get the ball in T-Mac’s hands.”
Who’d have thought that two months ago?
Kuester sent McGrady into the game with three minutes left in the third quarter and never took him back out – 20 straight minutes to close the game. McGrady was a huge reason the Pistons got to overtime in the first place, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter, making 6 of 9 shots.
Rip Hamilton, who played the final 25 minutes of the night, added seven in the quarter. It might not have been vintage Hamilton, but coming off of his 35-point off-the-bench debut in Toronto in the previous game, his 15-point night and the synergy he and McGrady have displayed have the Pistons optimistic that better days are around the corner.
“We’re playing a lot better,” said Charlie Villanueva, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds and whose tip-in with less than a second left forced overtime. “The lineup change, it plays some into it, but I feel like we’re just playing a lot better. We’ve just got to string some wins together now.”
The McGrady-Hamilton pairing might not have been the impetus behind Kuester’s decision to start Ben Gordon in Hamilton’s familiar shooting guard spot, but it’s been an eye-catching by-product.
“It’s two guys that have a basketball IQ, that just know how to play the game,” McGrady said. “We really feed off of each other. I’m a scorer and I’m a playmaker, he’s a guy that runs off screens, he shoots the ball, he gets to the right spots and I find him and he knocks down shots. It’s just knowing how to play the game.”
The Pistons looked like they’d forgotten how to play it after three days away from basketball following a sublime offensive performance in their blowout win at Toronto on Wednesday, mustering only 34 points in the first half yet somehow trailing only by six despite allowing 13 Chicago offensive rebounds in the game’s first 16 minutes.
Chicago led almost wire to wire, though a 9-0 run to start the second half briefly gave the Pistons a three-point lead. But it took a 7-0 closing spurt from the Pistons that started with a McGrady triple with 1:10 left and ended with Villanueva’s tip of Hamilton’s baseline miss in a furious final possession that saw the Pistons get four tries to tie.
McGrady had his moments of discouragement early in the season, but he said he always envisioned the day would come when the ball would again be in his hands with a game on the line.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “I always said it was going to take a couple of months for me to get my legs back, my confidence back, my rhythm back. I knew that was going to come. Physically, I was fine. It was more the mental part and just getting that feeling back. Here we are. Feeling pretty good and it’s only going to get better.”
The next step, he said, it performing the way he has for the past few games night in and night out.
“You’ll see things like this right here every night, as opposed to having a couple of good games and then revert back to not being as aggressive and just not being effective. But I don’t look to go back to not being effective. I’m trying to be effective every time I step on the basketball court to help us win.”
“He’s been great for us,” Villanueva said. “You can see each and every game he’s getting better and he’s feeling more comfortable out there. We’re going to need him to win some games. He’s a tremendous basketball player and commands a lot of attention.”