Despite unimpressive numbers, Chucky Atkins leads Detroit Pistons to win over Denver Nuggets

Chucky Atkins shoots against the Denver Nuggets. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News)

“If he plays regular minutes, there’s a problem.”

That’s what I wrote in Chucky Atkins’ player preview just more than a month ago.

Boy, was I wrong.

Atkins played brilliantly in the Pistons’ 101-99 win over the Nuggets last night. If there was ever an argument against Joe Dumars’ philosophy of having two scoring guards, this was it.

Sure, Atkins shot just 2-of-10 for nine points. But he orchestrated the offense masterfully, which is why he was a game-high plus-10. He had a lot to do with the many impressive feats by the Pistons’ offense.

  • Charlie Villanueva scored 27 points, showing an impressive mix of inside and outside play.
  • Rodney Stuckey scored 25 points and looked comfortable as a shooting guard .
  • Detroit shot a season-high 41 free-throws (including 4-of-4 by Atkins).

Atkins also had a knack for making plays when the Pistons needed them most.

  • He had two steals in short period in the second quarter that helped give the Pistons a little separation.
  • He hit a 3-pointer when the Nuggets tied the game late in the third quarter.
  • And he made a pair of free throws with 3:36 left that took the lead from Denver for good.

He took three more shots after those free throws, too. Many have made joked that, with Atkins starting, it feels like 2001. But if Atkins is Detroit’s go-to player down the stretch, I don’t want to know what year it is. I want to know what planet we’re on.

Heart is contagious

Atkins missed those final three shots, including the final one when Detroit led by two and could’ve taken the clock down four more seconds, leaving four seconds left. But the Pistons won anyway because they made so many effort plays.

  • Ben Wallace had 16 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
  • Jonas Jerebko had 12 points, eight rebounds and a steal.
  • DaJuan Summers even came off the bench to get a fourth-quarter steal and block – both off Carmelo Anthony, who scored 40 points. Summers hit a big 3-pointer, too.

I’ve said that I’ve always felt bad for Atkins because he did everything the Pistons asked of him in his first stint in Detroit. He just wasn’t good enough to hold the starting job when they signed Chauncey Billups.

But Atkins remained a true professional, and he still is. That’s why he made the team this year against all odds. Dumars wanted the influence of the 11-year pro.

And I think last night was a perfect example of Atkins’ attitude rubbing off.

An impressive win, but…

I hope Atkins enjoys this win – especially since it came against Billups, who pushed him out of Detroit six season ago.

In his postgame press conference, Detroit coach John Kuester talked about the Pistons’ “courage” and called the game a “gutsy win.”

The Pistons won the second game of a back-to-back for the first time in six tries this season. And they did it with Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum all out due to injury.

It’s easy to get caught up in how the odds were stacked against Detroit.

But Kenyon Martin was out for Denver. And the Nuggets were playing their final game of a four-game, six-day road trip. The last game of a road trip against the opposite conference might be one of the toughest games to win in the NBA.

Denver is a good team, and Detroit’s win streak is four games. But this was hardly season-defining.

On the other hand, it’s nice being in a position to find faults in wins.

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