STACKHOUSE RULES THE PALACE ROYALLY

He grabbed the final rebound and he dribbled out the clock, then he palmed the ball and raised a fist and for a moment it looked as if he owned it all, the Palace, the fans, the scoreboard, the victory. But Jerry Stackhouse doesn’t need to own the whole game any more. Just certain moments. This is the biggest reason why the Pistons are as good a shot as anyone to win the eastern half of the NBA this season.

It is certainly a big reason why they won their second playoff game Wednesday night.

Stackhouse did not dazzle the stat geeks. His numbers would make a coach break out in hives. Twenty-two shots taken, eight made.

Eight-for-22?

Ah, but the Pistons no longer ride on Jerry’s bottom line. They ride on his top. So it’s not the what, it’s the when. It’s not how many, it’s how important. Wednesday night, when he needed to be finding the bottom of the net, he did. The game slanted his direction.

Jerry-rigged.

“This is an unbelievable feeling,” Stackhouse said, after the Pistons celebrated a 96-91 victory over Toronto for a 2-0 lead in the opening round.
“I didn’t have a rhythm going early on, but I got to the free throw line. It got me more back in it.

“And when I had to, I was able to hit.”

Uh, yeah. Just ask the Raptors. Here was Stackhouse, at the end of the third quarter, scoring eight straight points, a long three-pointer, a driving lay-up, a cluster of free throws — and a seven-point Detroit lead.

Then, in the fourth quarter, when things tightened up, here he was again, banging a three from the corner to tie the game, then another three to stay ahead, then a killer three to drive the final stake.

Jerry-rigged.

Why he changed his game

“Are you comfortable putting that hat on when you have to?” someone asked Stackhouse, who had 31 points — thanks to sharp-eyed three-pointers and 11 free throws — in the Pistons’ 96-91 victory.

“Well, that’s been my mentality most of my life,” he said, “so it’s not hard to go back to it when I have to.”

There’s more in that sentence than you might think. Stackhouse’s mentality has indeed, for most of his life, been the go-to type. He’s a scorer, it’s in his blood, and he earned NBA All-Star status.

But this season he’s been asked to do something else. Change his game. Step back a bit. Bet that the reward will be worth the sacrifice.

If you think that’s an easy thing to sell to an NBA player, you probably think they’re in bed by 10 every night.

“I remember the morning we found out Stack wasn’t gonna make the All-Star team this year,” his coach, Rick Carlisle, said after Wednesday’s game. “We were on the road, in Washington, I called him up to my room, and I said, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this but you didn’t get picked.’ I was really disappointed.

“But what he said next was so important. He said, ‘You know, I’d much rather be in a position where we’re winning than me taking all those shots like I did last year. . . .

” ‘From this point on,’ he said, ‘I’m just gonna concentrate on winning.’ And he did.

“I bet we’ve won 70 percent of our games since then.

“You try and think of any guy who’s been an All-Star that’s been asked to play six minutes less a game or take six or seven less shots. I’ve tried to think of one. I can’t.

“What he’s done this year has been extra special.”

You know what that is?

That’s the story you want your coach telling about you.

Jerry-rigged.

A hoops dream come true

Fifteen minutes after the game was over, fans were still in their seats at the Palace. They stayed because Stackhouse was being interviewed on the court. They chanted his name: “Jer-ry! Jer-ry!”

Afterward, Stackhouse admitted he had been waiting for this kind of reception his whole career.

“It’s a dream,” he said. “It’s what I always envisioned. The atmosphere in Detroit now . . . driving down the street people are honking their horns, giving the thumbs-up. It’s just a great aura in the city right now. . . .

“I won’t sleep tonight.”

Neither will the Raptors, but for different reasons. The Pistons are a dangerous team. They are dangerous for what they are, and for what they are no longer. It’s the Stackhouse surges that drive the team now, not Stackhouse by himself. And you can’t force that.

There goes the new and improved Jerry Stackhouse, fist raised, ball in hand, up 2-0 in a playoff series for the first time in his seven-year NBA career. He didn’t own everything, but he owned the moment. And sometimes the moment is worth more than all the rest of it.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. You can hear
“Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). You also can catch
“Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.

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