Chauncey Billups still leads the way
AUBURN HILLS -- If you look very closely, you can see a bit of gray in the stubble on Chauncey Billups' chin.
That's about the only thing that has changed in the last decade.
Tuesday, Billups was running the Pistons offense in a meaningless preseason game, not the NBA Finals, but there wasn't any question who was in charge as Detroit tried to hold off Washington.
"Having Chauncey out there makes things a lot easier for me," Mo Cheeks said after the 99-96 victory. "I don't have to call a timeout and get us into a play, because he already knows what we need to do, and he knows how to do it.
"I have full confidence that he's going to get everyone where they need to be, and get us into our offense."
Billups has earned that trust over a 16-year career, but he will always be best known for his six-year stint in Detroit.
"You don't get the nickname 'Mr. Big Shot' for nothing, and he did all that here," said Greg Monroe. "When you are on the floor with someone like that, you are obviously going to be looking to him in a tight game down the stretch.
"He's the one that has won a lot of games like this one, not us."
Detroit had led by as many as 24 points after their best half of the preseason, but the effort fell off after the intermission.
"Our first half was very good, especially offensively," Cheeks said. "We hit every shot we put up there, and that makes it easy.
"In the second half, that wasn't happening, and since this is the NBA, even in preseason, that means the other team is going to make a run at you. We did it to Orlando when they got up big, and Washington did it to us down the stretch."
The Wizards tied the game multiple times in the last six minutes, even though they were using a young group of bench players. Cheeks countered with rotation players, including Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler. With Brandon Jennings still sidelined with his jaw injury, that meant Billups was at the point.
Washington kept things close, getting a key 3-pointer from Glen Rice Jr. -- yes, really -- in the final minute, but Billups hit a couple threes of his own, ran the offense and made sure his young teammates were in the right places at the right time.
"That's why I'm here," he said. "I expected that my experience is going to come in handy for this team. I'm here to teach, but I can still play. I'm going to be out there helping us win games."
Billups talked as he got ready to go home, ignoring the shouts to hurry up from assistant coach/troublemaker Rasheed Wallace. While Tuesday's result will be forgotten by tomorrow evening, he thinks the Pistons will have taken some important lessons away from it.
"Games like this are how young guys learn, so I was kind of happy it got close down the end," he said. "You don't learn anything from playing in a blowout, but in one like this, you learn how to execute, how to slow down and make the right plays, how not to break the play -- stuff like that. You learn that when games are on the line."
Make no mistake, Detroit is a franchise building for the future, and Billups is never going to play the same kind of role on the next great Pistons team that he played on the last one. He can still help smooth the bumps in the road, though, and he plans to do that both on and off the court.