Silver Lining

McGrady’s strong play shines through in OT loss to Chicago


The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Had Carlos Boozer chosen to opt out of his contract in July 2009, the Pistons were the team best positioned to land him in free agency. But Boozer’s camp wanted big money and they weren’t getting signals to indicate anybody was going to come close to the max contract Boozer was hoping to land, so he played out his contract with Utah. Boozer wound up getting about $15 million a year from Chicago over five years when he became a free agent last July. How it all plays out remains to be seen, but Boozer established the tone for Sunday’s game by scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the first quarter before going to the bench with 3:38 still remaining. He finished with 31 points and 11 boards, scoring four of Chicago’s 10 points in overtime and fed Ronnie Brewer for a layup to beat a Pistons double team to put the Bulls ahead for good in OT.

BLUE COLLAR – Charlie Villanueva couldn’t find his shot – he was 5 of 15 overall and 0 of 5 from the 3-point arc – but that didn’t stop him from finding other ways to contribute. Villanueva still managed to give the Pistons 12 points and 10 rebounds and it was his hustling tip of a Rip Hamilton baseline miss with less than a second left in regulation that forced overtime.

RED FLAG – Chicago, coming off a Christmas day loss at Madison Square Garden to the Knicks when its starters played heavy minutes, dominated the glass early in the game, outrebounding the Pistons 17-4 in the first quarter and doing great damage on the offensive glass with eight in the first quarter and 13 before the second quarter was halfway finished. The Pistons would get things under control – the Bulls outrebounded them by just three in the final three quarters – but if they had been able to hold their own in the early going instead of digging an early hole, the fatigue Chicago must have been feeling as the game dragged on should have allowed the Pistons to pull away.

Charlie Villanueva missed a 3-pointer that would have sent the Pistons to a second overtime in a game they would lose to Chicago, and that was enough by itself to send the Pistons into the night in a foul mood. But the real story of the game might yet prove to be who John Kuester intended to take the final shot, or at least who he intended to orchestrate the final play.

“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.”