The Pistons came into Sunday's game against the Bucks beat-down, battered and under the weather. Adding injury to the insult of dropping two games in Texas, the Pistons were without two and a half starters on Sunday: Rasheed Wallace sat out serving his one-game suspension for accumulating his 18th tech, Rip Hamilton missed the game with illness, and Chris Webber started but spent most of the game on the bench and in the locker room getting sick.
So what did Flip Saunders do? He looked down at the end of the bench and decided to unleash Jason Maxiell on the poor denizens of Milwaukee:
"One of our guys was kidding that we kind of keep him over there, kind of chained up," coach Flip Saunders said, "and when we let him loose we feel sorry for the other team because he really goes."
And "really goes" he went: career highs across the board with 19 points, 15 rebounds (including nine offensive!) and four blocks.
Sadly, only the 15,369 people in attendance at the Bradley Center could see it live (thanks to the league's overwhelming desire to pretend Suns-Kings had a national appeal), and I'm sure the significance of what they were watching was largely lost on their ignorant eyes. But for those fans of the Baby Eater listening on the radio and refreshing internet box scores, it was a glorious sight to behold in our collective imagination.
It was the first time Maxiell played in three games ... and it was the first time the Pistons played with energy to spare in three games. Coincidence? Of course not. Obviously the six-foot-seven Maxiell can't always match up with giants like Yao Ming and Tim Duncan ... but I'd still like to see him try. Why not etch in stone at least 5-7 minutes a game for him? Sink or swim, it'll be good for his development, and if he knows that's all he's going to get in that particular game, you know he's going to cram 48 minutes worth of energy into that short span.
As for the rest of the game, Antonio McDyess was once again a hero off the bench with 20 and nine -- he filled in admirably for Chris Webber, who tried to play but apparently is battling whatever bug sidelined Rip. Webber finished with just two points on 1-8 shooting in 26 minutes. He also had three boards and five assists. In hindsight, knowing that he's ill might explain his dismal performance against the Spurs.
Flip Murray started in place of Rip, scoring an efficient 16 points (6-10 shooting) while filling up the box score: three boards, five assists, one steal, one block, no turnovers. His recent resurgence aside, I've always been more comfortable with him in a shooting guard role, though he was actually more of a distributor than Chauncey Billups, who scored 12 with just two assists in 38 minutes. Sunday also marked the return of Lindsey Hunter, who scored five with five assists in 12 minutes.
While I was most excited to see Maxiell go nuts, Tayshaun Prince actually led the way with 28 points, three steals and a highlight-reel block on a dunking David Noel (which literally left Noel on his back with his heels over his head). It's nice to see him shoulder some of the load when Rip, the team's primary scorer, is out of the game. Tay is usually no better than the secondary or tertiary scorer, if that (I looked it up -- "quaternary" and "quinary" come next ...), but every now and then he'll show you that he can be the main guy, and a good one at that. It makes me wonder what he'd do on another team where he was one of the top two guys instead of being relegated to a "glue" guy who fills in the holes and mops up after all the other All-Stars.
In any case, the final score was 121-95, Detroit. The Pistons put the game out of reach in the second quarter and they kept their foot on Milwaukee's throat in the fourth. The Bucks were just as short-handed as the Pistons -- Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva will likely miss the rest of the season with injury -- but you take these match ups when they come and smile. There's no rest for the weary, though, as the Pistons return home and face the high-scoring Nuggets tonight -- they may need another 120 points in that one.