AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—Nervously shuffling his feet, Grant Hill raised his hand to acknowledge the cheers he didn’t expect.
Nearly five years after he left, Hill was welcomed back to The Palace with a standing ovation—and then the Detroit Pistons kept their fans cheering.
“I wasn’t sure I would ever get back here to play,” said Hill, who barely played in his first four seasons with the Magic because of injuries. “I was more nervous than I have been in 30-odd games this season.
“It was kind of hard to concentrate, not to make excuses, but it was weird. It was also probably the best feeling I’ve had after a loss.”
The Pistons took their first lead late in the second quarter with a 10-0 run and led by as many as 17 in the third. They were ahead by double digits for much of the fourth quarter, but Orlando pulled within three points twice in the final 35 seconds.
“Detroit made the plays down the stretch. That’s why they are the champions,” Orlando coach Johnny Davis said.
With a season-high four game winning streak and nine victories in 11 games, Detroit trails Central Divison-leading Cleveland by just a half-game.
Many debated whether Hill would be cheered or booed in his first game on the road against the Pistons since he departed following the 1999-2000 season.
He was the first Magic starter introduced and was given a rousing, standing ovation, with just a small smattering of boos.
“I was shocked,” Hill said.
After raising his hand, Hill said he motioned toward the public-address announcer to move on.
“I was clapping as hard as anybody,” Billups said. “It’s great to see him back healthy and playing again. It’s good for the whole league.”
Pistons fans were not happy when Hill wanted to leave, but apparently time, his comeback from injuries and last year’s NBA title tempered their bitterness. Hill played in his 34th game this season after playing just 47 in his first four seasons with the Magic because of ankle and foot problems.
Perhaps Pistons fans also figured out that Hill’s departure helped Detroit win its third championship.
“Time eventually heals wounds,” Hill said. “I’m very thankful they appreciated the six years I was here.”
When Hill told former teammate Joe Dumars, Pistons president of basketball operations, that he wanted to sign with the Magic as a free agent, Dumars secured commitments from Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins and arranged a sign-and-trade deal.
Wallace has become one of the most popular athletes in Michigan and Atkins helped the Pistons land Rasheed Wallace last season in a three-team deal, which turned a good team into a champion.
“I think there’s closure now, on both sides,” Hill said.
Doug Christie was in an Orlando uniform for the first time since being acquired in a trade from Sacramento, but didn’t play. … Hill averaged a career-high 25.8 points along with 6.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists in his last season with the Pistons. … Christie and his wife, Jackie, flew from Sacramento to Detroit on Friday and arrived at the arena together. Both said they are close to finishing a deal with VH-1 for the cable channel to produce a reality show featuring them. …The Magic said Stacey Augmon was not with the team because of personal reasons. … The Pistons signed Anthony Goldwire to another 10-day contract Friday. He signed his first with the team on Jan. 5. … Detroit played its first of four games in a five-day span, including a matchup on Monday afternoon against Phoenix.