AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—Richard Hamilton is leaving two of his favorite “throwback” jerseys in the closet.
“You won’t see my Randall Cunningham or Dr. J jerseys during this series,” Hamilton said Wednesday, one day after scoring 25 points to lead Detroit to a 98-87 victory over Philadelphia in Game 1 of the second-round series. He strolled into a news conference after the game wearing a Johnny Unitas jersey.
Hamilton, who grew up 45 miles west of Philadelphia in Coatesville, Pa., said it’s a dream come true to face the Sixers in the playoffs.
“It’s definitely exciting to get an opportunity to play a team you’ve been watching your whole life,” the 25-year-old player said. “I grew up watching Dr. J and Charles Barkley and all the great players in Philly. I always wished I would be here and now that I have the opportunity, I’m trying to have fun with it.”
“All we can do with Rip is try to do a better job getting him off the screens,” 76ers coach Larry Brown said. “That’s where he really hurts you. He didn’t do anything that surprised us. That kid has had a fantastic season.”
Hamilton led the top-seeded Pistons in scoring during the regular season with a 19.7 average and quickly quieted any questions about the six-player trade that sent Jerry Stackhouse to Washington for Hamilton.
“Rip has fit in with us without missing a beat,” Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said. “He’s been huge for us this year.”
Hamilton has not played in the postseason since leading Connecticut to the 1999 national championship, but he’s playing like a playoff veteran.
He’s averaging 22.3 points in the playoffs, which ranks among the league leaders and is barely behind Chauncey Billups’ team-leading average of 22.8. The much-maligned defender also has been solid defensively.
Dumars plans to re-sign Hamilton, who will be a restricted free agent after the season.
“We really think his future is very bright,” Dumars said.
Iverson’s sub-par performance—27 points on 8-of-21 shooting—might have been a result of the energy he spent guarding Hamilton. Iverson led the NBA in scoring during the first round of the playoffs with a 34.8 average.
“When we don’t win ball games, I get the finger pointed at me,” Iverson said. “I can accept that because I get all the praise when we win.”
It will be a game-day decision whether Billups and Philadelphia’s Eric Snow will be healthy enough to play in Game 2 Thursday at The Palace.
Billups, averaging 33.7 points the last three games, sprained his left ankle in Game 1 after he made a jumper and landed on Snow’s foot. Pistons strength and condition coach Arnie Kander said Billups showed signs of improvement on Wednesday, but was limping.
“He’s walking a little like Fred Sanford,” Kander said, referring to the character played by Redd Foxx on the 1970s television series “Sanford and Son.”
Tests revealed Wednesday that Snow’s right foot was not broken, but he still might not be able to play.