Fourth quarter rally spurred by Tracy McGrady falls short in overtime in Pistons loss to Bulls


Two games into the latest turn in the Detroit Pistons’ shooting guard drama, the answer at the position might not be Ben Gordon or Rip Hamilton.

Tracy McGrady‘s performances continue to get better and better, and in Sunday’s overtime 95-92 loss to the Chicago Bulls, it was McGrady who helped the Pistons tie the game with a fourth quarter flurry.

McGrady either scored or assisted on 16 of Detroit’s 28 fourth quarter points as the team outscored Chicago 28-17 to erase a double-digit second half lead.

Early in the season, McGrady was not getting any lift in his jumper. Over the last few weeks, however, his shot has returned and in the fourth quarter against the Bulls, 11 of his 13 points came on jumpers 16-feet out or beyond. It was the third time in the last five games McGrady has scored more than 15 points and he’s shooting well over 50 percent in that stretch.

Gordon, meanwhile, had his second straight quiet game since being given the starting job over Hamilton, although he did shoot it better this time, going 3-for-6 against the Bulls as opposed to 1-for-7 against Toronto. Hamilton was solid, scoring 15 off the bench on 6-of-14 shooting.

But even at their best, Hamilton and Gordon are only going to give the team scoring. McGrady, even a step slower than previously in his career, is still the best and most willing playmaker on the Pistons. When he’s in the game, the ball moves better, there’s more movement by players who don’t have the ball and McGrady rarely takes a bad shot that’s not within the flow of the offense. Hamilton, Gordon, Rodney Stuckey and even Will Bynum have a tendency to take really poor shots on occasion that disrupt the offense when they’re in the game. Hamilton and Gordon will never be the passers or playmakers McGrady is showing he can still be from the perimeter.

McGrady’s purpose on the Pistons is unclear, as it has been from the moment the team signed him. The Pistons didn’t really have a spot for him. But what is becoming crystal clear is the fact that McGrady, whether he has a future in Detroit or not, is steadily becoming the best player on the team. If John Kuester is truly thinking about wins and playoffs as the means to save his job, I don’t know how much longer he can afford to play McGrady in a limited role.

Villanueva hitting the boards

After a pretty bad start to the season rebounding (at least by traditional power forward standards), Charlie Villanueva is picking up the pace a bit. Villanueva sent the game to overtime with a tip-in of a Hamilton miss with less than a second remaining and he finished with 10 boards in the game. He’s averaging eight a game over his last five, and although those certainly aren’t elite defensive big man numbers, they’re certainly another positive sign for the one Piston who has shown drastic improvement from last year both in production and effort on the court. Villanueva has consistently had the best attitude of any Piston this season, and he continues to prove that his signing wasn’t the mistake many thought it was at this time a year ago.

But the bad news …

I can’t praise the rebounding, even of an individual player, too much considering Bulls point guard Derrick Rose had more boards than any Piston with 12. The Pistons frontcourt also continued its tradition of giving up a huge game to an interior player. Carlos Boozer torched them for 31 points. Boozer is just the latest in the line of David Wests, David Lees, Joakim Noahs, Andrea Bargnani’s, etc. who have met little resistance in the paint this season.

On deck

This could be another stretch that buries the Pistons further under the .500 mark (not that it matters in the East, where winning 36 percent of your games could get you in the playoffs). After facing Charlotte tomorrow, the Pistons are home against Boston, then at Phoenix, at Utah and at the Lakers. Unless they get the Bobcats, this could turn into another prolonged losing streak pretty quickly.