Richard Hamilton closed his postgame interview with Eli Zaret tonight the same way he’s ended hundreds of interviews – “Yessir!” But as Hamilton walked toward the locker room, something was missing. Unlike nearly all those previous Yessirs!, this one wasn’t paired with a smile.
This was all business.
I hope Hamilton can outwardly enjoy basketball again, but Hamilton On A Mission works right now. Hamilton On A Mission is the persona Rip needed to adapt now, and it’s the persona the Pistons need him to adapt now.
- HOAM scored 35 points – more than any reserve has scored this season.*
- HOAM deferred to Tracy McGrady at the right times.
- HOAM sparked a 115-93 victory over the Raptors.
Those first two bullets really exemplify what’s great about HOAM.* He’s not on a mission to prove he can still produce. He’s on a mission to prove he can still produce enough to lead the Pistons to wins. Hamilton has forced too many shots this season, but he didn’t do that tonight. That might help him pad his numbers, but it won’t help the Pistons win, and HOAM was only interested in doing things that helped himself and the team.
*Not that the third isn’t important, but the Raptors played as poorly as I’ve seen a team play this season.
And boy was it a good thing HOAM was willing to play within the flow of the game, because he wasn’t even the best Piston tonight. That honor goes to McGrady.
McGrady had shown signs of this before, but they were only brief spurts – a few minutes here, a few minutes there. Tonight, he kept coming and coming. His second quarter buried the Raptors, and the game was never in doubt after halftime.
In just 24 minutes, McGrady had 17 points (8-of-12 shooting), seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals. As the Toronto crowd booed him, McGrady just played better. He even shot .500 for the first time as a visitor in Toronto. I’ve said this several times, and I’ve believed it each time, but this was McGrady’s best game as a Piston.
The offense runs so much smoother with McGrady in the game. He makes the right decision nearly every time, and now that he’s getting into better shape, he can parlay those correct decisions into points more often. There’s no doubt Hamilton benefited from playing almost all his minutes with McGrady – more so than McGrady benefited from playing with Hamilton.
But with all eyes on Hamilton, he delivered. McGrady’s performance was nice. Hamilton’s might be franchise-altering.
This was just one game, and there will be many more tests. But Hamilton can only meet the challenge in front of him, and he did that with flying colors tonight.