Game Notes: Nuggets at Pistons
If only Chauncey stayed…
Rarely in basketball, let alone professional basketball, does a team truly embrace the concept of a brotherhood that surpasses the overall sport. The Adidas ads may campaign this act but if there was one team that was successful in doing so, it had to be the Detroit Pistons (post-Stackhouse and pre-Iverson). So why break it up?
I guess you never really realize what you have until it’s gone. Chauncey Billups was the most integral piece to the puzzle of the brotherhood and everyone in the state of Michigan was aware of this except for Joe D., which is why he acted in such a pedant manner to acquire Allen Iverson. The brotherhood was so hermetic because all of the siblings were at a point in their career where they were still trying to burnish their skills and find their niches. A.I. was already polished, which has took the brothers a while to get used to. He’s been like a spoiled step child who has been asked to live in poverty as well as do chores (cough…defense) and it’s been rough. Now on a night when their biological brother, Mr. Big Shot, returns home after being shipped off, this is what happened…
Fans were peering from the stands with cameras, cell phones, and camcorders looking to snatch a memory of Chauncey Billups in his new powder blue uniform as he took part in the shoot around with his new team. I seen well over 100 Billups jerseys in the red, white and blue, but I am pretty confident that no one in the stands was sporting his new Nuggets jersey.
Billups posters were everywhere that read things like “Chauncey You’ll Always Be in Our Hearts,” “Welcome Back, Mr. Big Shot,” and many other sincere quotes. The funniest one that I read had a photo of Joe Dumars with the thinking box over his head as well as a photo of Billups and Iverson hugging in their new uniforms that said “What Was I Thinking.” Everyone was very supportive of Chauncey in his first visit back to the Palace of Auburn Hills and the vibe was electric.
While walking to my seat on the press row, I realized the magnitude of this game when I spotted a name tag that read “Stephen A. Smith-ESPN.” This caught me off guard because in all of the games that I have covered, not once have I ever seen Stephen A.’s name, and I was ecstatic.
As clock ticked and the teams flocked onto the center court, the intensity was felt all through the building. I’m not sure if the fans were being supportive of Billups or for the Pistons but they were a little more enthusiastic than usual. This set the stage for his introduction from John Mason where he introduced him as “Still the deal from Park Hill… Chaunceeeey B-B-B-Bill-ups!” The crowd went nuts as they cheered for a few minutes as Chauncey held his hand in the air to show his gratitude with that broad smile. The same broad smile that helped put Detroit back on the basketball map. The same broad smile that captured a NBA championship and Finals MVP in 2004. The same broad smile that inherited several endorsements during his stint in Motown.
From the tip off, it was apparent that Chauncey had something to prove. His leadership skills were still on display as he directed his team to the right spots with his excellent hand signals, his muscles were still peering out of his jersey (no homo), and his skills were still pin point as usual.
In the first quarter, he put on a shooting exhibition as he connected on five of his first seven shots for 13 points including a sick pull up jumper over Rip Hamilton that had the crowd cheering. For the rest of the game he proceeded to shoot the lights out at the Palace as he finished with 34 points on 11-19 shooting.
Rip tried to take on the challenge of guarding him, but it was a tough burden as he finished the game with 21 points. Despite Chauncey’s heroics, the Pistons still looked great as they played great defense down the stretch. Midway through the fourth quarter I caught up with Stephen A. Smith to get his take on the situation in Motown.
SLAM: Are you surprised by the recent success that the Pistons have had without A.I. in the lineup?
Stephen A. Smith: No. Because as great of a scorer as Allen Iverson is, when you bring in somebody that’s basically a foreign element to a system that’s been running pretty much like a machine for the last six or seven years, there’s going to be some kinks in their army. You’re going to see them struggle a little bit, but when he goes out than you can revert back to form because you can start doing things that you normally were accustomed to doing in the previous six years. That’s all that happened with Iverson. Of course he’s a great scorer, he’s a great talent, we all know that, but he was the only foreign entity to this system and because he’s such a great talent, you have to adjust when he’s out on the floor. You can’t ignore him, if you’re his teammates whereas once he leaves, you can get back to old form.
SLAM: I’ve been hearing a lot of opinions, but what is your official opinion about the Iverson/Billups trade after having some time to see it play out?
SAS: I feel like it was the right move and I feel like it was the right move for both teams. Chauncey’s a great PG, a Champion! But in the case of Iverson you shade Billups’ $39 million off the cap; you shade Rasheed Wallace numbers coming off at the end of the year. That’s about the future, that’s why you make a deal like that.
SLAM: Do you think the Pistons will make a good run in the Playoffs this season?
SAS: No, No!
Although the Detroit Pistons would go on to defeat the Denver Nuggets, 100-95, Stephen A. still seemed confident in his opinion and a win wouldn’t seem to change his mind.
Rather than a traditional post game interview in the visiting locker room, a special press conference was given to Chauncey immediately following the game. As Pistons head coach, Michael Curry exited the podium; Billups stepped up to give a few quotes a couple of minutes later. When he entered the room, you could feel his aura as his earrings blinged with the shining lights. “I’m ready when you guys are…” Billups says.
The conference lasted a little over seven minutes and he spoke candidly on a few topics. (The full questions are the ones that I directly asked him.)
On being nervous:
“Nah I wasn’t nervous, I was more excited. It was just an unbelievable reception that the fans gave me here and it’s really no words that really can explain how good it made me feel. I felt appreciated, I felt very very appreciated for my years here and I want you guys to know that I appreciate the time that I spent here and how you guys all treated me. It was great to feel appreciated.”
Was it tough to stay focused playing against your old teammates who you went to war with for so many years?
“Nah, I was able to stay focused out there, [but] it was weird man, I got to admit. At halftime I started walking toward their tunnel a little bit, but I had to snap out of it and take a left so it was weird, man.”
When you seen certain players checking you did you feel like it was easier to score because you know their defensive tendencies?
“Nah, not really, I just wanted to be aggressive. Without Melo, I knew it was going to be tough. We needed another playmaker out there and I knew that I had to be aggressive and try to make a game of it and we did that.”
Going against Rip:
“That was funny, Rip is always out there jumping around and smacking and all that crazy stuff. I was just wishing we were in the bonus time because I was just gonna attack him and get on the free throw line. Rip is, as you guys know, a very crafty and pesky defender.”
Conversation with Rip after the game:
“We just talked about competing against each other. It’s been a long, long time. I was in Minnesota and he was in Washington that last time we competed against each other like that and it was fun. It was a lotta fun. We push each other to the limit outside of our close friendship, we compete and we battle out there. We just talked a little about that.”
Watching the Pistons struggle:
“Of course I don’t like to see them struggle, and I’m happy that they’re in a good place right now, playing a lot better, but I think it kind of shows what I meant to the team and the things hat I did without even showing up on the paper. So they’re in a good place, I’m happy about that and I hope they win the rest of their games because we don’t have to play them no more.”
Was trade motivation?
“Well it was a little bit of motivation. My motivation really was just that I still got a lot of years left and that I’m not old and I can still lead and I can still take charge. I didn’t want people just to think that I was a great player just because I played in this system with a lot of other great players. I want people to know that I’m a great player in any system and I can be effective in any system, so that was my challenge and the reason I was able to have a good season.”
On the ovation:
“It was fun but I was a little embarrassed so I didn’t want it to go on too long but it was a great feeling.”
What he will remember:
“The thing I will remember the most is what happened before the game with the ovation, people standing and cheering, screaming and going crazy. I’ll never forget that. As far as regular season games go I’ll never forget my first game back in Detroit. No matter what and it’s been a lot of great big games that we’ve played in but I won’t forget this one. I may forget the game and what happened but the ovation and the warm welcome that the fans gave, I will never forget that.”
As Billups charged out of the room, all of the media followed him. He acknowledged every person in his path, including all of the workers in the building. He was awarded the game ball before he left as well. If only he would have stayed!