The Pistons were serious about resting their starters against the Raptors on Friday: Chauncey Billups didn't even dress and none of the regular starters played more than 28 minutes. That opened up a ton of minutes for the reserves as five guys played at least 18 minutes off the bench. Unfortunately, it also resulted in a close loss as the team clearly lacked veteran execution down the stretch ... but hey, it's not like the game really counted, anyways.
I wrote about this game on the FanHouse from the Raptors' perspective, pointing out how at least one member of Toronto's media jumped the gun in proclaiming just how meaningless this game really was -- I recommend you check that out.
Rip Hamilton played like a guy who knew he'd be getting the hook early, scoring 24 points in 27 minutes on 10-15 shooting. He also grabbed six boards. He easily led the team as only two other players broke double-digits: Antonio McDyess (10 points) and Carlos Delfino (11).
Delfino only shot 3-9 from the field but he continued to be aggressive pushing the ball up the floor and into the paint, and as a result was rewarded with eight free throws, hitting five. We all know that his jump shot comes and goes, but he can really put the defense on their heels when he attacks the basket, I think surprising a lot of defenders with his ability to get in the air.
The guy I think most Pistons fans were excited to see was Amir Johnson, who got into the game late in the first quarter. From the Detroit News:
"The fact that we've clinched (the No. 1 seed in the East) and have the ability to maybe fluctuate some of the minutes of the main rotation guys, gives a guy like Amir an opportunity to play some games at this level," Pistons vice president of basketball John Hammond said. "He's shown what he can do at the D-League level. This is a chance for him to gain some confidence at this level."
Johnson's confidence might be at an all-time high right now.
"Oh yeah, I am ready to go," he said. "I was doing everything down there -- pushing the ball and everything. I might be pushing the break here."
Unfortunately, Johnson often played like a guy in his first game back from the D-League, scoring just three points in 18 minutes. He grabbed four boards and blocked a shot, but he also committed three fouls, which is one of his weaknesses. While he didn't exactly fill up the stat sheet, though, he was obviously one of the most athletic players on the floor, covering a lot of ground with his long strides.
There were a couple of times that I thought Johnson would bust out a highlight-worthy move, but both times he got a little eager: once on an offensive goal-tending putback slam and again on an offensive charging on a fast break.
The charging call was frustrating in that it was predictable -- Lindsey Hunter got the ball right around the midcourt line, and instead of hitting the streaking Delfino ahead of him he pitched it back to Johnson, whose lane to the basket closed by the time he got into the paint. On that play, it would have been better for someone else to push the ball up the court and then hit the trailing Johnson for the dunk. (Yes, I'm over-thinking this, but I was extremely excited anytime Johnson came close to touching the ball, so bear with me.)
DBB reader Michael mentioned this in the game comments, but Amir doesn't exactly look like he's 6-foot-11. I think that's because he's so athletic and (hyperbole alert!) graceful. If you want confirmation and still have the game on DVR, watch right around the eight-minute mark in the second quarter as FSN comes back from commercial: Chauncey Billups and Rasheed are seen giving Amir some advice. Chauncey is craning his neck to talk to him and Rasheed is standing shoulder to shoulder, almost exactly the same height.
The reserves played beautifully together in the second quarter, but the wheels came off in the fourth when Detroit shot just 39% from the field, scoring just 15 to Toronto's 29. I won't even bother trying to tackle what went wrong on the final few possessions (turnovers, air balls on game-tying attempts, overall ugliness), in part because that combination of players will never actually see a real-life pressure situation together this season.
But I will say this: if you're a Pistons fan, I strongly recommend you watch these last few games. It's just plain fun watching these young reserves get their minutes, and it should get even better on Sunday against a team like the 76ers instead of last night's game against a bona fide playoff team with real motivation to win. It's a sneak peek into the future, when guys like Delfino, Maxiell and Johnson will be expected to play meaningful minutes every night.
Raptors 87, Pistons 84 box score [ESPN.com]