Friday, May 23, 2008

Stuckey plays like starter for Pistons


Color commentators are notorious for repeating each other. Let me back up my point:

Football: "They've got a lot of weapons!"

Basketball: "They can't keep trading baskets!"

Baseball: "He just doesn't have his stuff tonight."

But when they say the following (see next paragraph), they're 1) not noting something obscenely obvious; and they're 2) making an observation that is very true, for an unknown reason, especially in the NBA playoffs:

"Role players are much better at home."

It's hard to figure out, really. I mean, we're talking about professional athletes, about people who dedicate their lives -- year round -- to their sports. And when they change venues, they can't make a shot?

Yeah, it makes as much sense as Boston's 0-6 road record this postseason -- after being the premier road team during the regular season -- but it's true. Role players, mostly guys who come off the bench, have a tendency to disappear in road games.

So how do I fathom the game Pistons backup point guard Rodney Stuckey played Thursday night? There's only one way -- he's not a role player. I'll call him Detroit's sixth starter.

That's how good the rookie from Eastern Washington was in Detroit's 103-97 Game 2 win, and because of his performance off the bench, the Celtics are going to need to find that magic road potion -- otherwise their season will be rubble.

Stuckey played so well in relief of Chauncey Billups, the Pistons actually ran set plays for him early in the fourth quarter when the game was very much in the balance. And the 22-year-old didn't blink. On back-to-back possessions, he scored a layup over Boston forward Glen "Big Baby" Davis and made an isolation jumper over Rajon Rondo.

In 17 minutes, Stuckey finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, three assists, two steals and just one of those ugly plays we commentators like to call "turnovers."

Because of the way Stuckey was running the team, Flip Saunders had no problems leaving him in the game -- and Billups, Detroit's "Mr. Big Shot," on the bench -- for half of the fourth quarter. When Billups finally replaced Stuckey after a stint on the floor that lasted longer than 8 minutes, the Pistons' lead had grown from 69-66 to 86-81.

No Pistons fan could ask more of a rookie point guard playing on the road. He maintained the lead as the Celtics clawed and scratched to run their home-playoff record to 10-0.

In a way, Stuckey mirrors Boston's Rondo, who is in just his second year in the league and is in charge of feeding Boston's "Big Three." The major difference, of course, is that Rondo has to start for the Celtics. The Pistons have the luxury of bringing Stuckey off the bench, and he gives the opposing team no rest when it comes to guarding Detroit's point-guard position.

With Rondo, on the other hand, the Pistons can afford to double-team Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett with his man because he doesn't have great confidence in his jump shot. He's Tony Parker circa 2003. Give him time.

But Stuckey is there, friends. He's a championship-caliber player. He learned on the job in the final two games of the Orlando series, and he proved himself big-time inside the new Garden Thursday night.

He was, simply, the difference in Detroit's six-point win. How else can you make sense of a game in which Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen combined for 75 points and Boston ... lost?

Detroit's bench -- otherwise known as "Stuck" -- dominated Boston's by a count of 17points to eight. No other reserve did much of anything for the Pistons, but that didn't matter. With the best starting lineup in the league 1 through 5, Detroit just needs that steadying force at the point guard position who will keep the offense flowing -- not stagnant -- when Billups needs his bench time.

Joe Dumars did it again. Criticize him all you want for the Darko Milicic pick in 2003 with the NBA draft's second selection, but besides that his draft choices and offseason acquisitions have been spot-on. Jason Maxiell is an enforcer down low who is only improving. Arron Afflalo has shown flashes throughout his rookie season.

And Rodney Stuckey has already arrived. Forget that he missed the first 20-plus games of the season due to injury. Forget that he came from a no-name college conference.

The kid can play. And as he showed Thursday, he's fearless -- even when on the biggest stage.

"No, Bob, that Stuck's no ordinary role player."


Sportsattitude said...

Stuckey certainly has game and its a good thing because Chauncey is not right. Since he did the splits in the Magic series, he hasn't been the same and is playing quite hurt. I expect Stuckey to see most of the minutes from here on out.

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