Pistons Hold On

Mr. Big Shot breathes his legacy to life as Pistons pull out a tight win

TEAM COLORS

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

WHITE HOT – Down three probable starters, the Pistons played their most dominant half of preseason, leading 65-43 at halftime, then followed with an offensively sluggish second half in losing all of what was once a 24-point lead. After Washington tied the game with six minutes left, Kyle Singler and Chauncey Billups sparked an 8-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers and the Pistons hung on to win 99-96. Greg Monroe scored 18 points to lead five Pistons in double figures. The Pistons shot 67 percent in the first half and assisted on 22 of their 26 baskets. Playing without injured guards Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey, as well as Josh Smith, who sat out but was not injured, the Pistons have just one preseason game left, Thursday, when they host Minnesota.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons like their depth this year, and even without four expected rotation players (Jennings, Stuckey, Smith and Gigi Datome) their bench will vastly outplayed Washington’s. In the first half, Tony Mitchell, Jonas Jerebko, Will Bynum and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provided 24 points on 11 of 12 shooting with seven assists and eight rebounds. Bynum finished with 13 points and nine assists and Jerebko with 11 points.

RED FLAG – It’s preseason and protecting leads with your projected starting backcourt missing is always an adventure, but the Pistons couldn’t be happy that a 22-point halftime lead was challenged so quickly and assertively by Washington in the second half. The Wizards outscored them 26-14 in the third quarter and 14-4 in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter to tie. The Pistons shot just 31 percent in the second half.

If Chauncey Billups could have scripted it, he might have done it just the way Tuesday’s seventh preseason game played out. Big lead, big collapse, now … let’s find out about ourselves.

“I was kind of happy it was a tie game with six minutes to go,” he said after the Pistons held on for a 99-96 win over Washington after losing every inch of a 22-point halftime lead. “That’s how you learn. You learn to execute and slow down and make the right plays when the game’s on the line, not necessarily when you’re up 18.”

Indeed, if the Pistons could take their sublime first half – when they shot 67 percent and assisted on 22 of 26 baskets – and their poised finish and forget about the messy 18 minutes in between, it was a beautiful night.

Billups gave them a big glimpse of their past and present and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tied a ribbon on it with a small peek into their future. After Billups hit two big 3-point shots down the stretch once Washington had tied the game at 83, Caldwell-Pope smothered Wizards rookie Glen Rice and forced a prayer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime but didn’t come particularly close.

Billups logged his heaviest workload yet in his third preseason game, starting and playing 32 minutes. He finished with 12 points, six assists and only two turnovers, but the most indelible mark he left on the game was bringing his legacy to life for young teammates, many of whom were years away from their high school graduation when he led the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title and won Finals MVP honors.

“You don’t get the nickname ‘Mr. Big Shot’ for nothing,” said Greg Monroe, who led the Pistons with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists, which could have been two or three higher but for missed teammates’ layups. “The poise, the composure he showed making those shots, that only comes from years of experience, so we definitely welcome that aspect of him, for sure. He knows so much, a lot of times guys are looking at him, waiting for him to say what he sees. Whatever he wants to get, what he’s looking for, guys are listening to him.”

The Wizards, like the Pistons, expect to make the Eastern Conference playoffs this season. The Wiz’s playoff hopes are legitimate, too. Let’s start with that. When they paired young guards John Wall and Bradley Beal together last year, after Wall’s return from knee injury, they played above .500 from the All-Star break on.

But the Pistons have dominated the Wizards in recent seasons, sweeping all four games a year ago. Their meetings this season will be especially critical, given their playoff aspirations, and they won’t have to wait long to gauge themselves against the other. The opening night guest at The Palace? Yup, Washington.

The Pistons aren’t very likely to be at full health for that one, not with Rodney Stuckey still in a splint after breaking his thumb two weeks ago and Brandon Jennings’ jaw wired shut with a hairline fracture of the mandible.

So if they can lean on Billups as hard as they leaned on him Tuesday while Stuckey and Jennings rehab and while they figure out how all their new pieces fit, maybe the Pistons can avoid a tough start that will force a late scramble.

“I suspect that my experience will come in handy all year for this team,” Billups said. “That’s what I’m here for. I’m here to teach these guys and, not only that, but I can still play, too. That’s exactly what I’m here for.”

With Billups in the starting lineup next to rookie Peyton Siva, and with Josh Smith taking the night off, a lineup they haven’t used much – Kyle Singler was up front with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond – sparked the Pistons to a 37-point first quarter. The bench was eyebrow-raising good in the first half, too, with the quartet of Caldwell-Pope, Will Bynum, Jonas Jerebko and Tony Mitchell combining to make 11 of 12 shots as the Pistons won the first quarter by 12 points and the second by 10.

“It was good offensively basketball,” Maurice Cheeks said. “And the fourth quarter was not as good as we would have liked and that’s what I told our guys. This is the NBA. It happens like that.”

The Pistons came back from a similar deficit to take a one-point lead in the final minute before losing two nights earlier in Orlando and perhaps it wasn’t coincidental that Billups sat that one out but was there for the lonely moments of this one. It can’t hurt the collective team psyche as the games roll by that they’ve now seen firsthand the effect of having a proven gamer like Billups to calm the roiling waters.

“I wasn’t thinking about that,” Billups said, “but I could see how (teammates) probably would. Any game – preseason, regular game – I’m going to try my best to win the game.”

Not only his teammates, but his head coach has a comfort zone created for him by Billups’ presence, he said.

“That’s not unusual for Chauncey to do those kind of things,” Cheeks said. “He kind of runs the game, takes over the game late and allows me to not necessarily have to call a timeout because I have him out on the floor. He can tell guys where to go and run certain plays. As long as we get the ball in his hands, we feel pretty confident of him running a play and making a shot.”

A big shot, quite often.