by | May 26, 2004 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Chauncey Billups pulled on his shirt, all alone, and marveled at the crowd of reporters waiting around an empty locker.

“All of you waiting on Rasheed, huh?” he said, smiling. “Man, oh man.”

He buttoned his buttons and headed for the door. The mob stayed put, not wanting to surrender an inch of real estate — in case Rasheed Wallace, The Man Who Made The Guarantee, emerged to say something equally crazy.

This is what’s known as covering the hot story, while ignoring the big one. Because Wallace, for all his talk, isn’t going to win this series for the Pistons.

But Chauncey Billups might.

Or, better put, he could, if he started playing the way he’s capable of playing.

When you look at the way the Pistons match up against the Pacers, the frontcourt is where Detroit meets the stiffest resistance. “We’re strong inside,” Rick Carlisle, the Pacers’ coach, admits, and with Jermaine O’Neal and Ron Artest — the real Ron Artest, not whoever is wearing his uniform since this series began — you’d have to admit he’s right.

So you expect Rasheed to have his hands full with O’Neal, and he has, and it has worked both ways, and you expect Tayshaun Prince to be plenty occupied with and by Artest — although Prince, to date, has had the upper hand. And Ben Wallace should dominate Jeff Foster on the boards, yes, but despite his occasional shooting spurts, Ben can never be the Pistons’ big offensive weapon.

On the other hand, you look in the backcourt, and something jumps out. Richard Hamilton and Reggie Miller are the same player, the younger more energetic version versus the slower, more wizened version.

And then there’s Billups. Who draws Jamaal Tinsley.

Which means he should be drawing blood.

Two views of his position

No offense to Tinsley. But coming off of Jason Kidd, Billups should be salivating. He has, arguably, the most lopsided matchup. Yet in two games against the Pacers, Billups has just seven baskets — same as Tinsley — and just 20 shots. He’s averaging three fewer shots a game than he did against New Jersey, when his matchup was much tougher.

“Don’t you feel you should have an advantage in this series?” I asked him Monday night.

“You know what? You’re probably right,” he said. “But I’m not personally trying to chase after that because then I take the ball out of everyone else’s hands and then I’m messing up the flow.”

No offense, but with the exception of Hamilton, taking the ball out of his teammates’ hands in this series might be an act of mercy. Anyhow, the other guys are too busy getting hacked, chopped, boxed and grabbed to be counted on for glitzy stats, right?

And isn’t Chauncey the high-scoring point guard?

Or is that the problem?

It has been well-documented that Chauncey’s vision of Chauncey and Larry Brown’s vision of Chauncey are different things. Brown envisions the old world version of point guard, you know, pass-assist-move-the-ball-oh-by-the-way-I-can-occasionally-shoot player, while Chauncey envisions the “modern” version, namely, I-can-do-it-all-so-why-don’t-I?

To be fair, Billups cannot blame his tepid numbers entirely on his coach. He hasn’t been aggressive to the hoop. He hasn’t made the clutch shots that his team has counted on. In Game 1 of this series, he bricked a wide open three that would have tied the game as the clock wound down. And in Game 2, he was called for a double dribble, and turned the ball over in the closing seconds, only to be saved by Prince’s now legendary block of Miller.

On the other hand, you have to feel for Billups. He is trying like crazy to be a good soldier. “It’s like your whole career you’re doing one thing and then all of a sudden you have to stop and try and think a different way,” he told me.

When I mentioned that sometimes I see his face as he runs upcourt and he looks like a jock version of Woody Allen, second-guessing himself, he laughed out loud.

“Does it show that bad?” he said.

Isiah could do it all

“Chauncey is trying to balance running the team and getting himself involved,” Joe Dumars said Tuesday, “and that’s a delicate balancing act.”

Just the same, Joe can remember the days when a guy named Isiah Thomas managed to pull that off — and do both things well. And while I’m not putting Chauncey in Isiah’s class, given the way everyone else is bottlenecked with an opponent, Billups, it seems, should be a likely candidate for an explosion — even though in this series, an explosion may mean eight points.

Billups averaged more than twice Tinsley’s points in the regular season. In a series that requires someone — anyone, please! — to flash some offense, he is the most likely candidate. He’s a great player and when in rhythm, a clutch one as well.

“There’s a time for everything,” Billups said Monday night, before walking out of the locker room.


How does “now” grab you?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or”


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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