Commentary

Hunter: Out of mothballs and back on center stage

Originally Published: May 10, 2008
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- While the rest of his Detroit Pistons teammates were in the showers, or changing, or already on the bus, Lindsey Hunter stayed slumped at his locker in his uniform. Wrapped in ice on his wrists, knees and ankles, the veteran guard was still accounting for all his parts after being taken out of cold storage in the Pistons' Game 4 win.

"High school state champs," yelled an already showered Rasheed Wallace across the locker room to Hunter, making fun of the fact he hadn't undressed yet.

[+] EnlargeLindsey Hunter
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesLindsey Hunter fit the bill in filling in for Chauncey Billups.
The 37-year-old Hunter began the season pondering whether to play or become an assistant coach. At times there seemed to be little difference. He played only 24 games and 215 minutes this season, and was inactive for the first three games of the series against Orlando.

But with veteran Chauncey Billups sidelined by a hamstring injury, and replacement starter Rodney Stuckey saddled with foul trouble, he suddenly had to play a major role in Game 4.

Hunter played 26 minutes, including 9:31 of the fourth quarter, and to say that was a lot for him is an understatement; only once in the past three seasons has he played more.

"It's been a long time," he groaned as he finally headed for the shower.

Hunter finished with eight points and three assists, and his defense at the point of attack helped the Pistons slam the door on Orlando in the second half. He even made 2 of 3 3-pointers -- a pleasant surprise considering he's topped 30 percent from the arc only once in five seasons as a Piston.

But most importantly, his familiarity with the Detroit regulars allowed him to step right in without skipping a beat.

"He was carrying the team, he was talking like he was playing the whole series," Pistons forward Antonio McDyess said.

"I've been playing with these guys for so long, I know their tendencies, I know what they like," Hunter said. "I'm comfortable out there, so I have no problem telling guys where to go … [and] it's easy for me keep a couple plays in my head, and at crunch time [say], 'Let's do this, let's do that.'"

Of course, Pistons coach Flip Saunders is no stranger to this situation. Four years ago in Minnesota, an injury to Sam Cassell forced him to pull another veteran quasi-assistant coach, Darrick Martin, off the pine in the conference finals against the Lakers to help them win Game 5. That was the year Hunter and the Pistons won the title.

"It's a similar situation where your third point guard comes in and ends up having a huge impact," Saunders said.

But he quickly added one crucial difference: "I hope Chauncey can come back. Sam wasn't able to come back."

If not, Hunter is likely to be asked to give an encore performance in Tuesday's Game 5. So it's probably a good thing that he has two off days to recuperate.

"The only thing we told our players was that everyone had to give up their ice bags because he needed them all," Saunders said.

"I'm sleepy now," Hunter said as he finally emerged from the shower.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.