Auburn Hills — There’s a time and place to work the kinks out before the games count for real, and the Pistons used their exhibition game against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night to do just that.
And, although they used the “in case of emergency, break open Chauncey” glass, they’re sure glad to know he can deliver — no matter how meager the stakes are.
A 24-point lead evaporated in the second half before Billups hit a couple of crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help stave off the Wizards, 99-96, at The Palace.
After helping facilitate the offense early on, Billups looked at home down the stretch, where his mere presence probably will help Pistons win a handful of games.
“Well, yeah. I suspect my experience will come in handy all year,” Billups said. “I’m here to teach these guys but I can still play, too. That’s what I’m here for.”
Billups and Kyle Singler, who started in place of Josh Smith, hit back-to-back 3s midway through the fourth after the Wizards tied the game at 83.
Billups hit another with 1:53 left with the Wizards trailing by two, and afterward preferred to focus on the positive of going through such experiences now rather than later.
“Teams will make runs. I was kinda happy it was a tie game with six minutes to go,” Billups said. “That’s how you learn. Slow down, make the right plays, don’t break the plays. You learn it when the game is on the line, not when you’re up 18.”
Billups finished with 12 points and six assists.
Greg Monroe led the Pistons with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but missed the back end of two free throws to give the Wizards a chance to tie the game with 6.6 seconds left.
Mercifully, Glen Rice Jr. missed a 3-pointer as time expired, because it’s very likely neither side wanted overtime for an exhibition tilt. The two sides will meet next Wednesday for the season opener at The Palace.
The Pistons made it look easy in the first half, getting contributions across the board. Rookie Tony Mitchell made a case for a spot in the rotation, being the first big man off the bench and displaying his athleticism with eight points in 16 minutes.
The Pistons shot 63 percent from the field in the first half and with their 22 assists on 26 field goals, led by 22 before the Wizards made a game of it.
“First and second was very good offensive basketball. We can’t hang our hats on offense,” Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said.
“This is the NBA. It happens like that.”
In the NBA.com GM survey where league executives for each team were polled, the Pistons were rated as the team that will be most improved from last season and the Wizards tied for second in the voting with Brooklyn, Cleveland, Houston, Minnesota and New Orleans.
Someone like Billups can be the difference between being right with those teams and being better enough to leapfrog them for playoff positioning.
And it’s not lost on Cheeks that Billups makes his life easier.
“He runs the game, takes it over and allows me not to have to call timeouts,” Cheeks said. “He can tell guys where to go and he can run certain plays for us.”
It’s not lost on his teammates, either.
“We definitely welcome that aspect from him for sure,” Monroe said.
“He’s been in every situation possible. Guys are looking at him to see what he sees. Guys are listening to him.”