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|Chauncey Billups and the Pistons are on the comeback trail once again.|
"For us, this is about winning basketball games, not a beauty contest," is what he said after the second loss. But I wondered if he really loved this. Because although there are those who love drama, who love pressure, no one loves impossibility. Down 0-3? Not even Chauncey Billups is that good. As he stepped onto the court, to play (really) the most important game of his career ("We've never been in an 0-2 situation before and we really don't want to be down further," he'd say), not one bead of sweat dropped from his brow. His body temp was cool, the blood in his body cold. This was his time. The time that he asked for. Twenty-two thousand, and seventy-six in attendance, nervous as Mitch Kupchak is about his job security. While he stayed cooler than snow under a polar bear. Smooth, at this point, was no longer just a nickname. ***** They had no choice but to play like themselves. Pride or die. Energy is one thing players beating players to loose balls, getting big rebounds, hustle points. Urgency playing in a panic, ahead of pace, in overdrive is another. But pride is what no one saw from the Pistons until now. Pride is what Mike Tyson lost the other night.
And pride, we forget, has a way of showing up in teams and players when they have nothing left to play for. In the last 1:24 of the first half, pride knocked Tony Parker on his butt (unintentionally, with a hard foul across the left eye), pride did an And-5 reverse dribble shakedown to get the baseline finger-roll off the glass, pride made sure Parker didn't get a shot off to extend the Spurs' one-point lead as time expired.
Twenty-four minutes later, it's him, the player of the game, who grabs the can of black Krylon and sprays the "X" over the number 4 on the front of the scorers table. Indicating that the pride's (finally) arrived. "I think everything tonight was about pride," Chauncey would say later, after it was all over, after the Pistons returned to self. "After those two bad losses in San Antonio, people really wrote us off. I even heard some people saying that we were soft. So everything we did tonight had to do with pride." His 20 points, seven assists, six rebounds and one turnover had something more than just pride written on it. It had something equivalent to a continued search for respect. All year long, and through everything, the Pistons are still the owners of the throne that no one outside of Kwame Kilpatrick's jurisdiction gives them credit for. They beat New Jersey last year because J-Kidd was hurt; they beat the Lakers last year because Malone was hurt; they beat Indiana this year because Artest was exiled and JO was hurt; the only reason they beat Miami was because Shaq was hurt and D-Wade got hurt.
Notice the pattern? And even with the win last night, there were whispers. Whispers that Chauncey may not have heard. The only reason they won tonight was because Manu got hurt Careless whispers. As if the Pistons are never going to dance again. But one-two step they will, because remember he asked for this. ***** It was past midnight and Chauncey's night was just ending.
Every person who got interviewed after the game was asked a question about him. Rip: "Chauncey, like yourself, seemed to be very offensive-minded tonight " Duncan: "Talk about the guard play for the Pistons, especially Chauncey " Popovich: "Tell us how Chauncey controlled the game " Coach Brown: "How important is it to get Chauncey going because it seemed that there was a stretch tonight where he really got his offense going "
|Billups took it right at the Spurs in Game 3, and he'll have to continue to do just that.|
"Talk about the surge you had, the main run you had (at the end of the half). You strive on being Mr. Big Shot " "I've got to pick my spots really when to be aggressive and when not to," he responded to the room half-filled with people. "I a lot of times kind of take it on my shoulders to get us out of ruts." Season ruts, series ruts, game ruts. It doesn't matter. Last night was all about him. But he left the Palace not thinking of any of this, not trying to hear what anyone said, not falling into any media or Spurs traps, not feeling himself. Again, "This is not a beauty contest," is how his mind works. He just staged left in his André Holliday custom black four-button two-piece. That's when I saw him. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder, as he has after every game.
We walked. His team's now down 2-1, and I could see it in his face, so I asked: "You're happy now, aren't you? Your backs are still against the wall and you're happy?"
And just like the laid-back brotha from Denver that I've known since high school, who still has the most beautiful wife in the NBA, who at an All-Star game in D.C. came to chill with a bunch of regular fellas from Howard at a hotel party instead of doing the A-list Puffy-invite thing, he calmly said back to me, "Oh yeah, no doubt, no doubt. This was a must-win for us, but we gotta do the same thing on Thursday." Then that smile came across his face, just at the thought of Game 4.
Maybe he is that good. "You know me, Scoop," he said before I didn't see him again. "This is the way I like it." Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines and the author of "Sole Provider: 30 Years of NIKE Basketball," "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.