Game Notes: Nuggets at Pistons
Big Ben and Mr. Big Shot meet at the Palace.
by Eric Woodyard
It’s been well documented about the success that the Detroit Pistons experienced with Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups competing together in the red, white and blue threads. From 2002-2006, the two delighted Pistons fans with one of the most wonderful runs in NBA history including an NBA championship over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004.
Billups and Wallace both grew into men during their tenures in the Motor City together.
Prior to signing as a free agent in June of 2002 with Detroit, Billups had been a journeyman who had already played for the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves in his first five seasons as a pro. In the D, he turned his swag on as he switched from the No. 4 to the No. 1 and became “Mr. Big Shot.” He responded in clutch situations, controlled the offense with poise, and earned the respect from not only the city of Detroit but the entire League as well. In the process, he was able to win a NBA Finals MVP, become an All-Star three times, and make the All-NBA team twice and All-Defensive second team twice.
Wallace, on the other hand, joined the team in 2000 as he was traded from the Orlando Magic along with Chuckey Atkins for Grant Hill. While he didn’t compete for as many teams as Billups, he was somewhat of a journeyman as he played for two teams in his first four seasons (Orlando Magic and Washington Bullets). While in Detroit, Wallace became one of the most respected players in the League as he intimidated players making them “Fear the Fro.” He won the Defensive Player of the Year award four times, was selected to six All-Defensive teams and four NBA All-Star Games.
While Billups and Wallace competed against each other since their departures to different teams; December 10, 2009, marked the first time the two competed against each other at the Palace of Auburn Hills since playing together in Motown when the Nuggets took on the Pistons.
The “Will Robinson Locker Room of Champions” (aka the Pistons locker room) was empty as center Ben Wallace searched for a remote for the huge flat-screen television that projected from the back of the room. Shoes were scattered all over the floors, the lockers were filled with street clothes, and it was actually pretty quiet.
“Where my remote at?” Wallace said to himself.
“Can I ask you a few questions?” I asked as I greeted him.
“Hold on one second,” he said as he searched. “Alright I’m ready.”
Stepping up to the 6-9, 240-pound, dominating presence I asked him a few questions.
SLAM: Obviously you’re going against your old teammate Chauncey Billups, is that any extra motivation tonight?
Ben Wallace: Aw naw, I have played against Chauncey a number of times so I know he’s gonna be motivated and ready to play when he come up in here.
SLAM: I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to you since you’ve been back in Detroit but I know you have to be so happy coming back to Detroit because you’ve been so productive…Can you talk about how that feels to be home?
BW: Thanks man. I’m just happy and excited to be healthy for the first time in a long time and I can just actually get out here and do some of the things that I know I can do. In the last two and a half, three years, I just haven’t been healthy, if it ain’t my back, [it’s] my knee you know? I broke my leg! It’s just been a frustrating season year after year but right now I’m back, I’m happy, I’m healthy and I’m glad to be back in the D.
SLAM: Since you’ve been back in the D, I know you look at the crowd and see how different it is back here. I remember all of the games used to be sold out when I was younger…
BW: Yeah, I remember we used to lead the League in sellouts here in the D, and like I said before you’ve gotta give this crowd something to cheer about and put that buzz back in the city. Once we do that, people will come back.
Leaving the locker room, I reflected on how much he’s changed. No longer did he have the huge ‘fro, instead a miny fro’ (…Gerald Levert style) in which gray hairs were starting to seep through his scalp. He also wasn’t wearing the No. 3 anymore, instead Rodney Stuckey proudly donned the number (the former DPOY wore the No. 6). I knew this prior to the game, but it didn’t really sink in until after talking to him.
On the other end of the spectrum, I was able to see Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony stroll into the building together. Melo’s swag was through the roof as normal as he wore dark shades and a green hoody and Billups looked as professional as ever, speaking to everyone in his presence even saying “What’s up?” to me.
He looked so comfortable, like he’s been here before. Oh wait? He has.
Despite all of this positivity coming from Billups, I could sense that he was ready to get the game started. In his two games last year against the squad, he averaged 32.0 points but the Pistons swept the series winning both contests.
Wallace and Billups both greeted each other at the tip-off with a big hug but after the ball was tipped the friendship was out the door.
Billups chipped in 21 points on 6-16 shooting with 2 assists, including a few big shots in the end while Wallace grabbed 16 boards, scored 7 points, and gathered 2 steals. On the final possession, Billups choked on a layup that would have tied the game.
Stealing the show was the NBA’s scoring leader, Carmelo Anthony, who exploded for 40 points on 16-28 shooting with 6 rebounds. Melo scored in every way possible as he kept a smile on his face throughout much of his 4th quarter run in which he scored 16 points. On one possession at the 4:31 mark, Melo calmly connected on an and one after seeing Ben Wallace switch on him. After the play, Melo smacked the hand of a fan in the audience before proceeding to knock down a free throw for his 35th point of the evening. Classic!
For the Pistons Rodney Stuckey went to work as he scored 25 points and Charlie Villanueva scored 27 points off the bench. Improving their overall record to 10-12, the Pistons defeated the Nuggets 101-99 despite the absence of Ben Gordon (left ankle sprain), Will Bynum (left ankle sprain), Tayshaun Prince (lower back) and Rip Hamilton (right ankle sprain).
Nuggets head coach George Karl sat outside the visitor’s locker room in a University of Michigan long-sleeved shirt and took questions. With the bright lights flashing in his face, Karl commented on Anthony’s 40-point performance.
“Carmelo with 40 points on 16-28 shooting, it’s safe to say he was our main energy tonight. He was good, he was very very good,” Karl said. “He’s amazing when he gets in that offensive mode but we didn’t have enough guys to come with him.”
Inside the locker room Carmelo Anthony sits beside Chauncey Billups slouched in a corner with his head down in black compression shorts looking really frustrated. The media, including myself immediately swarmed Billups as Anthony’s body language made it clear that he wasn’t taking questions at the moment.
Below are a couple quotes from Billups…
On coming back: “I mean, it was my first time last year when I came played here and it was crazy and this is really my first time where it really felt like the times when I played against the Pistons when I was in Minnesota and with other teams and I kinda had that feeling but I always just remember my years here but it felt crazy. I’m never gonna let this put a blemish on what I feel about playing here.”
On Ben Wallace: “Ben is playing great, he rejuvenated himself. He’s all over the place, blocking shots getting rebounds and you’ve got a team where all the bigs know who they are and they do what they do and let the guards do what they do so I take my hats off, they played great.”