The 37-year-old Wallace, who has announced he plans to retire at the end of the season, played the final 18 minutes of Thursday’s game and made five key free throws down the stretch, helping the Pistons beat the Washington Wizards 99-94.
“I don’t want him to do it, I keep telling him that he can play two or three more years,” Will Bynum said. “The way he works? He’s the first one in the gym every day and the last one out of the gym every day. He looks like he’s 30, not 37.”
Wallace came into the game midway through the third quarter while the Pistons were having trouble keeping John Wall away from the basket. The strategy worked, as Wall only had four of his 28 points in the fourth.
“(Wallace) was phenomenal tonight,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. “I respect him, so I respect his decision, but that man is a true testament to professionalism and hard work. I hope our players soak up some of his lessons before he’s gone.”
The Wizards rallied in the fourth quarter, and started intentionally fouling Wallace to try to finish their comeback. He had missed his first four free throws and was shooting 26 percent for the season, but hit five of six shots from the line in a 16-second span.
“I never seem to make them until teams make me make them,” Wallace said with a grin. “When teams do that, I see it as a challenge and I have to step up.”
Monroe led the Pistons with 18 points in 21 minutes, while Rodney Stuckey scored 15.
The Wizards were missing Nene and Trevor Booker with foot injuries, but rallied from a 20-point deficit to pull within five late in the game. Wall also finished with 10 assists, while Kevin Seraphin had 15 points before fouling out.
“We were down two big men as it was, so Kevin was our only legitimate center, and then we lose him,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. “We lost our physicality on defense, and we lost any ability to get points out of the post.”
Detroit could have put the game away in the first half, but missed 11 of 24 free throws to let Washington stay close, 51-40. Monroe took advantage of the Wizards’ issues inside to put up 13 points and six rebounds in the half, but Wall outscored Brandon Knight 11-0 in the matchup of former Kentucky point guards.
“John Wall got into the paint 28 times, and that was a huge percentage of their scoring,” Frank said. “Our second unit really stepped up and kept him out of there, and that turned out to be the difference in the game.”
The Wizards tried to rally in the third quarter, but missed several layups.
“Both our veterans weren’t here, and we had some lapses,” Wall said. “We didn’t play with enough energy in the first half, but we kept the game reasonable and we fought back. Being short-handed isn’t an excuse. Everyone has injuries.”
Stuckey, returning from a hamstring injury, scored seven points late in the period to give Detroit a 76-64 lead going into the fourth.
“Coach did a great job of getting me the time that I needed,” said Stuckey, who fouled out after playing 19 minutes. “I’m not 100 percent, but I’m working my way back into it. I just played my game without thinking about the hamstring. If I retweak it, I do, but I can’t let it stop me from playing.”
Detroit led by as many as 20 in the fourth, but three Washington 3-pointers made it 87-77 with 6:50 to play. It was 94-86 with 2:18 left when the Wizards started to foul Wallace, but that plan didn’t work.
NOTES: Wallace played 27:13 without attempting a field goal—the sixth time in his career he has played at least 25 minutes without taking a shot. The only active players with more are Joel Anthony (8) and Jason Collins (7). … The Wizards missed 17 shots in the paint, shooting just 53 percent inside, while Detroit shot 64 percent from close range.