Pistons fall to Spurs on Wallace's record night
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — For a few crazy minutes Tuesday night, it was 2005 again at The Palace.
The Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs were battling down the stretch, just like they did in that seven-game championship series, and Ben Wallace and Tim Duncan were at the center of it.
Wallace is only a few months from the end of his 16-season career, but he didn't show his age. On the night he broke Avery Johnson's record for games by an undrafted player, Wallace played the final 18 minutes, battling Duncan most of the way before the Spurs won 99-95.
"It was an exciting game for me to have the opportunity to play against Tim," Wallace said. "We have a lot of history against those guys. I knew this was one of those games where everyone would be ready to play."
Wallace even drained a very rare 3-pointer, helping the Pistons rally from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter. It was just the seventh triple of his 1,055-game career.
"The 3-ball, that's something y'all haven't seen before," Wallace said. "I practice that every day. I got an opportunity. I lined it up and I knocked it down."
Later in the fourth, Detroit had taken a 88-87 lead when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich pulled one of his favorite tricks out of the bag. San Antonio intentionally fouled Wallace on three straight possessions, and he split the six free throws.
"It is what it is," Wallace said. "They still fear something.
"They hacked me. I made a couple free throws. I shot a couple airballs. Ain't nothing you haven't seen before."
Duncan, who first played against Wallace in 1998, enjoyed their final battle.
"That was great," said Duncan, who finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds. "He's always in great shape, and he's still moving well and really active."
Wallace played well enough that Duncan was surprised to learn of his retirement plans.
"I hadn't heard, so I asked him during the game, and he told he was done at the end of the year," Duncan said. "I told him that he's had an unbelievable career. That's how he broke that record."
Popovich drew the wrath of the fans when he pulled out the Hack-a-Ben strategy one more time, but he praised Wallace after the game.
"He's a great man," Popovich said. "We know he hasn't had a career based on his skills with a basketball. He's had a career based on because of his character, his determination and his perseverance.
"That's what makes him always the meanest man in the battle. He's exactly the kind of player that every coach wants."
At the end of the night, just like in 2005, Wallace and the Pistons fell short. This time, though, Wallace was able to reflect on his new place in the record books.
"Undrafted, coming in, you are just excited to get a uniform with your name on the back," he said. "I got an opportunity, and I made the most of it.
"I guess this is a testimony to the work I've put into the NBA."
Barring injury or a miracle run to the playoffs, Pistons fans have 36 more chances to see Wallace do that work.