Monday, May 22, 2006

Hunter, A Piston When It Wasn't Chic, Provides Much-Needed Energy In Game 7

Lindsey Hunter was drafted by the Pistons in the first round in 1993. The draft that year, appropriately, was held in the Palace. I was there, seated somewhere where noses sometimes bleed, when Hunter's name was read into David Stern's microphone and the crowd cheered. What they were cheering for initially, I'm not sure, because not too many people knew who Lindsey Hunter was, let alone why he would be an ideal first round draft choice.

Then Isiah Thomas, in the twilight of his career, took the microphone, and it was plugged into the PA system for us all to hear.

"I just want to tell the people of Detroit," Isiah said, "that the Pistons just got a helluva basketball player."

More cheering.

"This guy's like a little Isiah," Thomas said, and then he laughed that hearty laugh that was, at the time, a show of joviality, but would over the subsequent years turn into a self-mocking caricature.

And so Hunter became a Piston -- given uniform #1 to boot. Half of Isiah's #11.

Fast forward nearly 13 years later, and...

"Lindsey came in and gave us some energy, both defensively and offensively," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said in the wake of Sunday's 79-61 "must" -- that ancient playoff word -- win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series.

Indeed, it was Hunter, late in the third quarter, the game still in question, who came from the bench and helped give the Pistons some much-needed, long-awaited separation between them and the pesky Cavs. Within minutes of Hunter's arrival, the Pistons lead grew from one to ten.

Which just happens to be Hunter's uniform number now, in his second tour of duty in Detroit.

Chauncey Billups wears #1 now, and while he's the piston that pumps most importantly, Hunter is the one who, on days like Sunday, pumps hardest with just as much importance, maybe more.

In '93, it was "Lindsey WHO?", from Jackson State

To start the fourth quarter, the Cavs' Larry Hughes nailed a triple to bring his team within seven points. The Cleveland snake was twitching.

But then Hunter, after a few failed trips up the court by both teams, drained a triple of his own to regain the ten-point cushion.

The snake was about to die.

Hunter, ironically, was one of the first players Pistons President Joe Dumars shipped out of town, back in 2001. He bounced around the NBA like one of its basketballs, before landing back in Detroit in 2004, after Dumars did some fancy GM footwork to get Hunter again into a Pistons uniform.

Hunter was a Piston when it wasn't cool to be a Piston, when the uniforms were awash with teal, and the team was considered a cupcake on the NBA schedule. He once made passes to the likes of Cadillac Anderson and David Wood and Brian Williams. He played for Don Chaney and Doug Collins and Alvin Gentry and George Irvine. It wasn't the grandest of basketball times here.

But now Hunter wears two championship rings -- one was culled from his days as a Laker -- and he can still, at age 33, play the kind of man-on-man, ball-hawking defense that can create turnovers, fast break points, and can balloon leads from one to ten in a hurry.

In the first half, when the referees deemed it a foul to breathe in LeBron James' direction, Hunter was playing his hard-nosed "D", but then got reprimanded for three fouls. Before halftime. Upon the third whistle, he grimaced and winced and bounced around like a jumping bean. Then he had to sit on the bench, lest he pick up a fourth foul.

It was when he returned, late in the third quarter, that he provided that energy that Saunders referred to in his postgame address.

The Pistons move on to face the Miami Heat, who are now, thanks to Pat Riley's panicky roster shuffling last summer, without their own veteran disruptor and dagger-thrower, Eddie Jones, who hurt the Pistons time and again in last year's Conference Finals.

Doubtful the Pistons would let Lindsey Hunter get away a second time.

1 comment:

Big Al said...

Ahhh, the 1993 draft. At numbers 10 and 11, it's Lindsey Hunter and Allen Houston. The Pistons have their backcourt set for the next 10 years!

Funny how things turn out...