Shot Down

Barrage of Billups triples leads Denver past the Pistons

TEAM COLORS

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

– Going into the fourth quarter, the other ex-Pistons guard, Arron Afflalo, led Denver scoring with 15 points. Chauncey Billups nearly matched that in the final 4:34 of the Nuggets’ 109-100 win when he scored 14, including 12 on four 3-point baskets. After a Will Bynum layup got the Pistons within a point, Billups answered with an immediate triple. Then, after a Carmelo Anthony three-point play, Billups knocked down triples on successive Nuggets possessions to blow open a tight game. He finished with 26 points and made 6 of 9 from the 3-point line.

BLUE COLLAR – Shelden Williams won’t ever live up to his status as the No. 5 pick of the 2006 draft, but he’ll probably spend many more seasons in the NBA for what he can do and given his reputation as a stand-up guy who can absorb the playbook and be ready to play at a moment’s notice. Williams got thrown into Denver’s starting lineup when Nene missed the game with a calf injury and Kenyon Martin, coming off of off-season knee surgery, was held out as a precautionary measure. Williams, who started 30 games this season due to injuries to Martin and Chris Andersen, scored 10 points in the first quarter to pull Denver out of an early nine-point hole and gave the Nuggets a solid 13 points and five boards.

RED FLAG – Rodney Stuckey got the Pistons off to a fast start, scoring the game’s first five points, but he went down hard while trying to fight through a Carmelo Anthony pick late in the first quarter. Stuckey, who went immediately to the locker room, was diagnosed with a right shoulder contusion. X-rays were negative. It’s unknown whether he’ll accompany the team to Miami on Thursday when it leaves for a two-game trip that also will take the Pistons to New York. The Pistons especially missed him on the defensive end, where he held Chauncey Billups to two points in the first quarter before getting hurt.

The man the Pistons asked to replace Chauncey Billups is the one they expected to have guard him upon Mr. Big Shot’s annual visit to The Palace. But Rodney Stuckey only got to do so for 10 minutes on Wednesday. He did it very well – Billups had two points and one assist after one quarter, making one of three shots – but then Stuckey ran into a brick wall.

Actually, it was Carmelo Anthony – the guy who’s also been the roadblock to a proposed trade that might have made the news. Anthony was setting a pick when Stuckey rammed his right shoulder into him, crumpled to the court in pain and headed to the locker room. X-rays were negative and the injury is being called a contusion. That means Stuckey shouldn’t be out for the long haul – he says he expects to make the trip to Miami and hopes to be able to play on Friday night – but he was out for the rest of the Denver game.

And that was all the opening Billups needed. Playing the rest of the way guarded mostly by Ben Gordon or Will Bynum – exactly the shorter, smaller type that allows Billups to use his strength and shooting range to create scoring opportunities – Billups finished with a game-high 26, 14 of them in the final 4:34, including four 3-pointers in that time and six for the game.

“Chauncey was getting his shot off,” said Stuckey, a bag of ice strapped to his right shoulder as he gingerly tried to dress. “I would have been a bigger defender on him, a bigger body. Just try to crowd him. He puts you to sleep and then he just shoots it. You’ve got to crowd him and try to make him put it on the ground.”

John Kuester wanted to get a bigger body on him. He wanted Tracy McGrady to guard Billups, but Denver transitioned so quickly to offense the Pistons didn’t have the chance to make the switch.

“They were playing (Anthony) really hard, doubling him,” Billups said. “We knew someone was going to be open. We knew that someone else had to make plays in case they zoned in on ’Melo. Those are the kinds of opportunities that I love.”

The 109-100 win was Billups’ first at The Palace in three tries since being traded to Denver early in the 2008-09 season and the first Denver win here since March 10, 1995, when Billups was just wrapping up a high school career at George Washington High in Denver as the three-time Colorado Mr. Basketball winner.

“I still say Detroit has the best fans ever,” he said. “They still show me so much love all the time. I love coming back and seeing the appreciation for the years, blood and sweat that I put in.”

Billups’ late eruption overshadowed another dynamic fourth quarter for Will Bynum, who scored 17 of his 19 in the quarter on 8 of 11 shooting, knocking down jump shots and getting to the rim with seeming ease. After Bynum led the Pistons from nine points back to one down when he sliced inside Denver’s defense to score with 3:15 left, Billups took over.

Fourteen seconds after Bynum’s layup, Billups hit a triple standing within arm’s length of John Kuester near the Pistons’ bench. After a Tayshaun Prince miss, Anthony countered with a three-point play for a seven-point Denver lead. Then Billups knocked down triples on the next two possessions and the game was over.

“We made the adjustment at the timeout to put T-Mac on him and because of the made field goal, we didn’t make the switch,” Kuester said. “Chauncey was directing everything and did a great job.”

“Those were some tough shots,” said Bynum, who looked forward to understudying Billups when he came to the Pistons but saw Billups traded two games into his first season with the organization. “He’s one of the top guards in the NBA and he pretty much took over down the stretch.”

The Pistons, coming off their Monday night win at Orlando, got Charlie Villanueva back after a sprained right ankle caused him to miss the last two games. They were without Rip Hamilton, who went to the doctor and was diagnosed with influenza. It might have been the night the door opened for Hamilton’s return to the rotation, given Stuckey’s injury. It might even have been Hamilton guarding Billups down the stretch with the Pistons looking for a bigger body to throw at him.

Wouldn’t that have made for an interesting storyline?