|Final - 2.21.2010||1||2||3||4||OT 1||Total|
|San Antonio Spurs||24||21||22||26||8||101|
Highlights in this Season of Suck have been few and far between, but of Detroit's 20 wins, Sunday's overtime victory over the hated Spurs has to rank somewhere close behind last month's signature win over the Celtics.
Yes, the Spurs were missing Tony Parker, and, sure, they were on the final leg of an eight-game road trip (which sounds worse than it really is given that the All-Star break split the road trip in two), but beating this team will always taste extra sweet until nightmares of the 2005 NBA Finals begin to fade.
And while many of the names and faces have changed over the last half decade (or in the case of Antonio McDyess, switched uniforms), this game certainly had a playoff-type physicality from the get-go, with both sides hitting the floor -- and each other -- hard. It's how basketball between grown men is supposed to be played.
vaunted three-guard lineup carried the team, as Richard Hamilton (27 points, five rebounds), Rodney Stuckey (20 points, six assists) and Ben Gordon (21 points, five assists) all produced. Hamilton has been hot for awhile (and his consecutive free throws made streak has now reached 47), but it was nice to see Gordon find his stroke.
Gordon only shot 1-2 from 3-point land, but he had more than a few long jumpers just a step inside the stripe. A long jumper with your heels touching the 3-point line is the least efficient shot a player can take, but if not thinking about his feet and simply firing away when he feels he has a good look will get him in the groove, I'll take it.
Speaking of the long ball, Stuckey was a perfect 3-for-3 from long distance, including two desperation heaves to beat the shot clock. Again, I'll take it.
As satisfying of a win as this was, it almost didn't happen. As Detroit nursed a 87-78 lead with 3:36 left in the fourth, the Spurs employed the always frustrating Hack-a-Ben strategy that resulted in Ben Wallace going 4-10 from the charity stripe over the next five possessions. Call it cowardly if you must, but it was effective as hell, and it allowed the Spurs to take the clock out of the equation while chipping away at Detroit's lead.
Ironically, John Kuester left Wallace in the game until the 2:05 mark, five seconds until fouling away from the ball would result in a free throw and possession. Over the final two minutes and change, San Antonio made up the remaining four points and sent the game into overtime. Fortunately for Pistons fans, that's all the Spurs had left -- Detroit outscored the Spurs 16-8 in the extra frame to put this game on ice.
The Antonio McDyess Unsung Hero:
Let's just give this one to McDyess, shall we? It's still strange to see him wearing the silver and black, but at least Gregg Popovich seemed to recognize what a return trip to the Palace meant to him by giving him 31 minutes off the bench, just the second time since November he's topped 28 minutes. He responded with 13 points and eight boards, flashing that silky smooth jumper from the top of the key that you know is going in the moment it leaves his finger tips.
As for a Piston, Tayshaun Prince came through with yet another sneaky effective game (16 points, nine boards) while playing a game-high 45 minutes. I'm still not convinced riding him while letting Austin Daye collect cobwebs on the bench is best for the long-tem future of the franchise, but it's hard to be too cynical after an increasingly rare victory.
This roster, no matter how flawed it may be, can still beat a legitimate contender on any given night. And perhaps more encouraging, Stuckey, Hamilton and Gordon can in fact play with each other, and play well. Each of those three tallied at least 34 minutes and 20 points with a combined 14 assists and six turnovers. Barring a significant trade or lottery pick, this will be a perimeter-based team for the next several years, so getting efficient production out of those three is key.
(Also, this is kind of nice: the Pistons are 5-4 so far in February, and with cupcakes like the Kings, Clippers and Warriors on tap in the four games, there's a somewhat decent chance this team will actually post a winning month for the first time since December 2008. Yes, it really has been that long.)