AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—New Orleans rookie Hilton Armstrong made the most of his chance to play.
With the score tied at 99, Armstrong made the first of two free throws to put the Hornets ahead. He missed the second, but got to the rebound and batted it to midcourt as time expired.
“Before I went to the line, I tied my shoe—I didn’t need to, but it gave me a second to calm down and relax,” said Armstrong, who came into the game with zero career points in six minutes. “I was pretty excited. On the second one, I didn’t want to grab it and get a foul, so I just tipped it.”
Paul had 20 points and 13 assists for New Orleans, while Armstrong finished with 17 points and nine rebounds in his first start.
“That kid got a chance to play tonight and he made a statement,” Tayshaun Prince said. “That keeps happening to us—young guys come in all fired up and play great against us.”
“I told them before the game that they were getting an opportunity, and it was up to them to take advantage of it,” said New Orleans coach Byron Scott. “I didn’t expect 17 points from Hilton, and I don’t think he thought about scoring like that, either. That’s probably why he was able to do it.”
“It’s still early in the season, but it is late enough that this is getting old,” Billups said. “It is just mental breakdowns. We’re playing hard, but we’ve got three guys going one way and two going another way.”
The Pistons missed all six 3-pointers in the first half, but got rolling from behind the line in the second half. Hamilton hit two key 3-pointers in the third, and Detroit knocked down three in just over a minute of the fourth quarter to take an 89-86 lead.
The teams traded the lead for the next several possessions, and the game was tied at 97 with a minute left.
Paul made both shots, tying the game at 99.
Wallace missed a 3-pointer, and Paul found Armstrong under the basket, where he was fouled by Hamilton.
“Chris is their main guy, and we focused on him,” Wallace said. “We lost focus on everyone else.”
The Hornets didn’t play much defense in the first half, allowing the Pistons to shoot 55.6 percent from the floor, but it didn’t really matter. New Orleans hit 50 percent of its own shots, outrebounded Detroit 20-15 and only committed one turnover.
That, combined with 14 points from Armstrong, was enough to give the Hornets a 60-49 lead at the intermission.
The Pistons rallied early in the third and pulled within 66-62 on Hamilton’s 3-pointer midway through the quarter.
Detroit tied the game on another Hamilton 3-pointer late in the period, but Wallace missed a go-ahead free throw, and Peja Stojakovic answered with a 3-pointer and Paul added a buzzer-beating jumper that gave the Hornets an 81-76 lead.
The Pistons, though, got back-to-back 3-pointers from Wallace and Billups to tie the game at 86 with eight minutes to play. After misses at both ends, Billups hit another from behind the arc to give the Pistons their first lead since they scored the first basket of the game. ^Notes: The Hornets had as many offensive rebounds in the first half—11—as the Pistons had defensive rebounds. … The Hornets were missing Chandler with a concussion and West with a strained forearm. … Antonio McDyess left the game early in the fourth with a mild sprain of his left ankle, but could have returned if needed. … Armstrong had only played in two of the Hornets’ first eight games, and hadn’t even attempted a shot in his six minutes of action. … Paul picked up a first-half technical for arguing a call.