Richard Hamilton scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and backcourt partner Chauncey Billups added 17 to lead the Pistons over Orlando 96-85 Saturday night. Chucky Atkins, Detroit’s third guard, had 14 points.
It was the first meeting between the teams since the opening round of last season’s playoffs. Orlando held a 3-1 lead in that best-of-seven series, but Detroit rallied for three straight wins.
Just like in April and May, Detroit had to hold fast against a barrage by Tracy McGrady. He scored 18 of his 31 points in the third quarter but misfired afterward.
McGrady missed all seven of his shots in the final quarter, while the rest of the Magic shot 5-for-12 as the team was held to 13 points.
“We wore him down a little bit,” said Pistons center Ben Wallace, who had 13 points and 17 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. “No one else really stepped up to take control over the game.”
Added coach Larry Brown, who replaced the fired Rick Carlisle in June: “We did a great job by switching out and putting two guys on McGrady.”
McGrady heated up after the game, though, criticizing his teammates.
“My guys are starting to learn each other and they don’t know where their spots are at,” said McGrady, who finished 10-of-24 from the field and 10-of-11 from the foul line. “Nobody knows when to cut, where to cut; point guards don’t know if they should pass or stay or go through.
“So, there’s a little bit of confusion there.”
Juwan Howard, brought in as a free agent to give Orlando a second scorer, missed two shots and two free throws while committing four turnovers and three fouls in eight fourth-quarter minutes. He finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double with the Magic. However, he missed 10 of 14 shots and is shooting 35 percent (14-for-40) on the season.
The Magic’s fourth-quarter fade was reminiscent of their loss to New Orleans on Friday. In that game, Orlando blew a five-point lead with two minutes left and fell 100-98.
“I have to get guys to execute a little better as a team,” Orlando coach Doc Rivers said. “There’s just basic things we’ve stopped doing. I know they’re young, but we’ve got to be able to focus better and remember plays.”
Guard play was the difference in last year’s playoff series, and the Pistons’ advantage carried over. Detroit trailed 76-69 early in the fourth, but Hamilton scored six points and Atkins five during a 17-2 run that put the Pistons ahead by eight with 5:10 remaining.
Detroit’s three-guard rotation of Hamilton, Billups and Atkins combined to shoot 18-for-38.
“We’re running a lot more under coach Brown,” Billups said. “That’s one thing we wanted to do last year. We finally did it for the last three games of the series against (Orlando) and we got some easy transition baskets. That’s what opened everybody up.”
After a tight 18 minutes of play, the game took on the characteristics of last year’s series: Detroit took it right at Orlando, while the Magic could only backpedal.
The Pistons opened a 55-44 halftime lead by racking up unchallenged dunks, offensive tip-ins and fast-break layups. Detroit shot 12-for-21 in the second quarter, with seven baskets from point-blank range. Wallace had nine points in the quarter’s final 5:19, beginning with an uncharacteristic 16-foot jumper and highlighted by back-to-back dunks.
Meanwhile, the Magic missed 10 of 14 shots with three turnovers in the half’s last six minutes. They eventually trailed 61-48.
McGrady, though, scored 10 straight points to bring the Magic to 61-60.
After Britton Johnson stripped Billups and drove for a slam with 4:40 in the quarter, Orlando had scored 14 unanswered points for its first lead since 33-32.
The teams swapped baskets for a minute before McGrady closed the period with another six points—a coast-to-coast highlight jam in the middle of two longjumpers—for a 72-67 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Pistons had a 50-33 rebounding advantage, 18-9 on the offensive end. … Orlando guard Gordan Giricek sat out after spraining the arch in his right foot Thursday. In two games, he has scored 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. … McGrady’s 33 points against New Orleans on Thursday marked the 100th 30-point game of his career. … Pistons 18-year-old forward Darko Milicic, No.2 pick in the June draft, saw no action for the second time in three games.