What a Start
Mr. Big Shot restores order with huge plays as Pistons win season opener
America turns its clocks back Saturday night, but as with most aspects of life Chauncey Billups is a few steps ahead of everyone else.
Mr. Big Shot ratcheted the clock back six or seven years in his first game that counts at The Palace since being traded away in November 2008, not only making big shots but infusing a team bristling with promise but aching for his leadership with the confidence to withstand the kind of late runs commonplace in the NBA.
“Feels like home. Feels like old times,” Billups said of hearing The Palace roar to life after a huge fourth-quarter triple, of which he dropped two in and around more subtle moments every bit as critical to the 113-102 opening night win over Washington. “It felt good. The energy in this building sounded familiar. I hadn’t seen that in a while around here. It felt really good. We fed off of that.”
“Chauncey’s three kind of settled us down,” Maurice Cheeks said of the first salvo he fired with 6:09 left and Washington having whittled a 15-point deficit to seven. “I’ve seen him do that many times against me. I think that was the thing that settled us down. Chauncey said in the huddle, they were going to make a run. He said, let’s just stay composed, and he was the guy making the composure shot which I thought really settled us down.”
Josh Smith – superb in his Pistons debut with 19 points, five rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot in 40 minutes – drew a charge on John Wall on Washington’s ensuing possession, and then 29 seconds after Billups’ first triple, he hit another. Nearly four minutes later, Washington had one last charge, again coming within seven with just under two minutes to play when Billups – hemmed in on the left side with seemingly nowhere to turn and the shot clock under five – suckered Trevor Ariza into fouling him.
“I was kind of bottled up, young defender on me trying to get a steal out of it,” Billups said. “That was a big play. Really, a misplay by me, picking the ball up. But made something out of nuthin’, man.”
When the smoke cleared from a raucous, partying opener, Billups had 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as all five Pistons starters reached double figures. Greg Monroe was magnificent with 24 points and 16 rebounds, Cheeks riding him for 42 minutes in part due to foul trouble that limited Andre Drummond to less than nine second-half minutes. Inside, the Pistons used their powerful frontcourt to batter Washington, outscoring the Wizards 56-28 in the paint. Will Bynum went 38 minutes and gave the Pistons 19 points and five assists.
“He hit some big shots,” Monroe said, nodding his head at a teammate 14 years his senior across the locker room. “He hit a couple when they were on runs. He definitely lived up to his name today. He’s great in those situations. He knows what we need to get and how we need to get it. Whenever you have somebody that good on your team, who’s that knowledgeable of the game, it makes the game a whole lot easier.”
Cheeks pared his rotation to eight, a move largely forced on him by the absence of Brandon Jennings (broken jaw) and Rodney Stuckey (broken thumb). Stuckey said earlier Wednesday that he intends to play on Friday at Memphis and Jennings could be back late next week, so it was especially significant for the Pistons to squeeze out a win against Washington – another team, similar to them, that hopes to compete for an Eastern Conference playoff berth – before their reinforcements arrive.
“To get a win, No. 1, is the first thing,” Cheeks said. “We were good. We’re missing a couple of guys we plan on being key players for us, but the guys we’re going to count on, they made plays for us. Greg Monroe made plays, Chauncey made plays, Josh Smith made plays. I thought Kyle Singler played a very solid game. Will, playing 38 minutes, played a solid game.”
Singler, Jonas Jerebko and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were Cheeks’ only reserves who played save for the final 19 seconds when he waved in Peyton Siva, Gigi Datome and Tony Mitchell. Cheeks said it wasn’t preconceived that he’d use an eight-man rotation, but the game dictated such use. Caldwell-Pope’s contributions belied the box score, though he dented it for nine points, two steals and two assists in 27 minutes, including the final 17 straight of the first half.
Among his most significant contributions was the perimeter defense he provided, primarily on Bradley Beal. The Pistons made Beal and John Wall, the heart of Washington’s playoff hopes, work for every one of their combined 37 points, forcing them into 14 of 39 shooting and seven turnovers.
“We knew those are their two best players and Beal had been playing really well all preseason,” Billups said. “I was locked in and at least tried to make him do something he doesn’t always do and he missed some shots tonight.”
And that provided enough of an opening for Mr. Big Shot to make some, well, very big shots on a very big, very joyous night at The Palace.