Pistons' Butler will take some soreness with win streak
Auburn Hills — If Caron Butler had any delusions about the hardwood floor of The Palace having any give to it, his sore body the next day erased those thoughts.
"Last night took a lot out of me," joked Butler, 34, before referring to Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins when it was suggested Cousins' body had any give to it, either. "Yeah, it (does) not. That's a strong young man right there."
Butler stripped Cousins midway through the fourth quarter Sunday as both went to the floor for the loose ball in desperation. Butler tipped the ball ahead to Andre Drummond for a dunk and subsequent 3-point play that began the finishing touches on the Pistons' 114-95 win.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy called it the play of the game, while the two previous possessions had just as much to do with his team pulling away, as Butler hit two jumpers, including a 3-pointer, which gave the Pistons a little breathing room.
"Caron's not afraid of anything, he's been in huge games," Van Gundy said. "It's nice to have guys around who've been there before."
Butler was certainly brought in over the summer for his veteran leadership, considering the Pistons were one of the youngest teams in the league last year and still are this time around. But what separates Butler from being a well-meaning, "good cop" assistant coach is the fact he can still contribute, although not at an All-Star level.
"You can be a voice on the bench but you still have to sacrifice your body and your time," Butler said. "They have to see you in here doing the little things, see you on the court performing. Lord willing, I'll be able to continue to do this."
Young players are often weary of older guys whitewashing their failures while only accentuating their successes, so Butler has to toe the line between being a vocal guy, a leader, compared to being the old man yelling at young kids to get off his lawn.
"I just watch, I watch everything. I didn't want to get too down on them because coach is very vocal," Butler said. "I try to be the medium, I try to stay positive, to say the little things that don't fall on deaf ears. Obviously, guys stayed the course and bought it in. They're starting to believe."
Five straight wins — all since the release of Josh Smith — has a young team brimming with confidence as it heads to Texas to play two of the league's best on Tuesday and Wednesday — the NBA champion Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, respectively.
Butler's value comes intangibly, of course, as he pulled aside the curtain on last year's scouting report on the Pistons, a team that lost more than its share of fourth-quarter leads on the way to another losing season.
"The knock was they didn't play four quarters," Butler said. "The team would play hard for 24 minutes. If you strike them, they'll fade away. You don't want to regress in that moment. You want to stand to that moment and push through it. The last 5-6 games — even the games we lost, we started pushing through it. We're imposing our will on games."
At closer examination, they have. The Kings pulled to within four early in the fourth quarter, and the Pistons defense tightened up, especially on Cousins and Rudy Gay, players who combine to score nearly 45 points a night.
In Orlando, Florida, they hosted a block party in the fourth quarter as they pulled away for a 20-point win. So if Butler is feeling himself — and believe it, this streak is validation to him — then he has temporary reason to poke his chest out a bit.
"It's real rewarding because they don't owe me nothing but I tell them, you owe it to yourself," Butler said. "To represent the name on the back of the jersey and the front. Do your job, stay the course. I appreciate it because everybody bought in."
"They believed in what coach Van Gundy was saying, they believed in my message and my leadership in the locker room. The energy is totally different and I'm just ecstatic about it."
Which makes the sore body a lot easier to accept.
Pistons at Spurs
Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, AT&T Center, San Antonio
Outlook: The Spurs' 8-10 mark in December was their first losing record since Feb. 1999. ... The Pistons are averaging 108.4 points in their five-game winning streak, their first since 2009-10.