Last night marked Richard Hamilton's first action since the opening game of the season. After 21 games without the Pistons scoring machine and hearing originally he was not expected to return this month, it was a pleasant surprise to read about an hour before tip-off that he would be suiting up and playing against the Warriors.
Once I got past the general excitement about having Rip back in the lineup (and that I'd get to see it live at The Palace), I wondered how it would affect the team as a unit. After all, the Pistons have been rolling lately, winning four in a row and averaging 98.5 points in those four games. While his return to the lineup was certainly welcome, it wasn't at the most convenient time.
Luckily, Rip slipped back into the lineup seamlessly and the Pistons didn't miss a beat en route to their fifth straight victory of the season (and commenter Madpoopz Openwindow noticed this mid-game, as well). In the Pistons victory, Hamilton played a little over 36 minutes, dropped 18 points on 6-15 shooting, and was the Pistons leader in plus/minus at plus-17.
Rip's return wasn't all peachy, though. He was visibly rusty to start the game, as his ball handling was shaky (three turnovers), some shots were way off the mark, and he even missed his first two free throws, despite boasting a career 85% mark. I guess that can be attributed to him not being involved in any competitive practices since before the injury.
Once he got accustomed to actually playing basketball again, the ol' Rip started to show up down the stretch. He began knocking down the shots he was missing early on and his three-pointer with a little less than five minutes remaining in the 4th to put the Pistons up five was arguably the turning point in how this one would end for Detroit. Golden State didn't get closer than five the rest of the game and Rip extended the lead to seven the next time down the floor for the Pistons.
The best news, aside from his return itself and the Pistons winning, was that his return did not seem to have any ripple effect on Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey, who has been playing great basketball over the past six games in the two spot, moved back to the one to accommodate Hamilton's return to shooting guard. Stuckey responded by playing the best game of his latest hot streak, scoring 29 points on 10-18 shooting, dishing out seven dimes, and being plus-11 when on the floor. His only flaws were the seven turnovers (a few which were not his fault). I know this was just one game, but it's getting more and more clear that he's simply improving and his rise in numbers during his starts at the two spot were merely coincidental. In October, Stuckey averaged just 15 points per game. He upped that to 18 PPG in November and is now pouring in nearly 23 PPG in December.
All in all, it was a great night for the Pistons. They saw the return of one of the franchise's all-time leading scorers (Rip hit the 10,000 point mark to join just six others in Pistons history) and the rest of the Pistons took it in stride. There is no refuting that this team is better with Hamilton playing. As Chauncey Billups said about his former team the other night, the Pistons are a team nobody will want to face in the playoffs given all their weapons. If you had fun watching last night's game, just wait until the Pistons get their other three players back.
More musings after the jump.
- I wanted to work this in above the jump, but oh well. Richard Hamilton's wife deserves high fives from all Pistons fans, as she was the one who ultimately convinced Rip to say "Yessirrr, I'll play" to Coach Kuester before the game.
At shootaround (Saturday) I told (Kuester) I wouldn’t be able to go because it wasn’t feeling right," Hamilton said. "I went home and talked to my wife and the one thing she told me was pretty much, ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Go out there play. Go out there and give it a try. You never know how you’re going to feel till you go out there and try to play.
(H/T Pistons Point)