AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—The Detroit Pistons almost got lost in “upset city.”
Before Sunday’s game against Houston, Pistons coach Flip Saunders used that term to describe the stretch from mid-January through the All-Star break for winning teams. Then the owners of the NBA’s best record nearly became a victim of it.
Richard Hamilton also had 24 for the Pistons, but split a pair of free throws with 10 seconds to play to set up the final sequence of shots.
“I like games like this much better than the ones we win by 10, 15 or 20 points,” Billups said. “I don’t like playing games like that.”
McGrady was only 2-for-8 from the field in the fourth quarter as Houston (13-26) lost for the eighth time in nine games.
The Rockets led 88-87 in the fourth quarter before Maurice Evans hit a 3-pointer with 6:28 to play that gave Detroit the lead for good.
Detroit outrebounded the Rockets 41-37 and had an 18-7 advantage in bench points. Evans gave the Pistons 11 points in 21 solid minutes filling in for Tayshaun Prince, who went to the bench in the first quarter after picking up two fouls.
“He has the ability to make big shots,” Saunders said. “He gives us good energy and athleticism.”
The Pistons had a 55-46 halftime lead, with McGrady keeping Houston close by scoring 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting. He was even better in the third quarter, when he was 7-for-10 and scored 16 points. He and David Wesley had baskets in the last 7 seconds of the period to cut the Detroit lead to 78-77.
“They’re a different team with Tracy,” Saunders said. “He was phenomenal tonight.”
McGrady, playing in his second game since missing five with back spasms, was on the floor for 41 minutes as Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy used a three-man bench. He said Detroit’s performance showed a glaring difference between the teams.
“They don’t need a player like me because their starting five is a (great) five,” McGrady said. “They all know their roles and nobody tries to do too much.”
“You can’t be afraid to make plays,” he said. “There’s about 1 percent of the players in the league that might make that play.
“Sometimes you’re going to win them and sometimes you’re going to lose them, but you can’t be afraid to make them.”
Rockets forward Ryan Bowen left the game early in the second quarter after complaining of an irregular heartbeat. Van Gundy said the six-year veteran has experienced the condition before and was removed from the game as a precaution. He was not hospitalized.
Ben Wallace had 13 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, who are 17-3 at the Palace of Auburn Hills this season. Rasheed Wallace added 11.
Howard scored 16 and had 10 rebounds for the Rockets.
McGrady’s 43 points are the most the Pistons have allowed a player this season. … Rasheed Wallace was assessed his 11th technical foul of the season in the third quarter. … Gs Jon Barry (calf strain) and Moochie Norris (foot), and F Stromile Swift (eye) did not travel with the Rockets. … Sunday’s crowd of 22,076 was the Pistons’ 104th consecutive sellout.