Johnson exploded off the court. O’Neal met him in mid-flight, extended his right arm into Johnson’s chest and sent the Detroit Pistons forward back from where he came. As he hit the floor with a thud, Johnson felt the wind suck out of his chest.
"Sorry young fella," O’Neal said.
"I figure I might as well get it," Johnson would later say, "while I’m young."
That's the highlight everyone seems to be talking about, but obviously the Zoo Crew had plenty of other plays where, you know, the ball actually went through the hoop:
Jarvis Hayes, a 26-year-old free-agent pickup from Washington, scored a season-high 18 points while the 20-year-old Johnson and 25-year-old fellow forward Jason Maxiell combined for 11 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Rookie guards Rodney Stuckey, 21, and Arron Afflalo, 22, helped hold down the backcourt.
"We learned some things the last couple of years," Saunders said. "Two years ago, we played at such a high level and it took an emotional toll to keep it going. Last year, again, I thought we got fatigued."
By expanding their rotation, the Pistons have significantly reduced their starters’ workload. None are averaging even 35 minutes. Prince and Billups have each seen their minutes drop by an average of three a game. Over the course of a season, that’s a savings of at least six games. The decrease has been even more pronounced of late with Stuckey, who missed the first 1½ months with a broken hand, now entrenched as the backup point guard.
We've obviously read similar accounts all season long in the Detroit papers, but it's nice to see the national media catching on with what's easily been Detroit's biggest storyline of the year: the stereotype of the Pistons as aging and slow no longer applies, as there's a group of young and talented reserves making their mark in just about every game.