Milwaukee — Following the morning shootaround before Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Pistons rookie guard Darrun Hilliard had a little secret that he didn’t want to share.
Hilliard, the second-round pick from Villanova, was going to get his first playing time this season. After sitting for the first 13 games, he was finally going to get a shot.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, vexed by the lack of production he was getting from the bench, was going to give Hilliard a try, after having gone through his other options among the reserves.
But Hilliard kept it to himself — almost.
“I told my girlfriend, because I knew she wasn’t going to tell anybody,” Hilliard said. “I knew she wasn’t going to tell anybody. I didn’t even tell my mom.”
In his first stint, the left-handed Hilliard got the ball on the baseline, faked and put up a jumper with his right hand, which fell in for his first career points. The rest of the night was forgettable, though, as Hilliard finished 1-of-7 from the field in 13 minutes.
He took his initial baptism in stride, though, with the understanding that rookies will have plenty of ups and downs before things start to become stable.
“It’s just a game; it’s just another game,” he said. “You try to block out all the dreams of having your first point and all the other stuff that comes with it and try to narrow it down and stay humble and go out there and play.”
It’s been a grind for Hilliard, who sat on the bench for the first part of the season wondering when — or if — he’d get a shot.
Van Gundy hinted that if he didn’t find a time for Hilliard to get into a game soon, he might consider sending the rookie to the Grand Rapids Drive, the NBDL affiliate, to get some playing time and avoid losing his timing.
When he met with media members after shootaround, Van Gundy didn’t completely show his hand concerning Hilliard. But with Reggie Bullock not producing and the second unit desperately needing a scorer, Van Gundy went with something new.
“We’re trying to look for somebody there that will play,” Van Gundy said after the game.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s a start for Hilliard.
After months of practice and preparation, he finally got a chance to test himself on the court. Although he was eagerly awaiting his debut, Hilliard said he watched and learned from the bench, trying to remain in a state of constant readiness, not knowing when it would finally come.
“I’m always ready; you’re always ready to go out there and help your team,” he said. “I knew whenever I was going to get called, I would be ready. If coach didn’t tell me today that I was playing and put me in the game, I would have been ready. That’s just my path and I have to go with it.”
Van Gundy lamented the Pistons’ lack of defense against the Bucks, when they Bucks looked to get all the shots they wanted, including transition baskets off turnovers.
“Our lack of effort on the defensive end of the floor for a full 48 minutes — there was not a stretch in that game where we competed defensively,” Van Gundy said. “Our turnovers were bad.
“When you don’t play hard and make the effort to defend, that’s hard because that’s not something you can go work and get better at — you’re either going to play hard or you’re not.
As the Pistons have been plagued by shooting woes from the reserves, they did get a positive sign from forward Anthony Tolliver, who was mired in an 0-for-10 slump from the field, and missed his last seven 3-pointers. Tolliver finished with 13 points, going 4-of-8 from the field, with three triples.
Heat at Pistons
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, The Palace, Auburn Hills
Outlook: The Heat have won three straight and are holding opponents to 91.8 points and 40.4 percent on field goals. It’s the first meeting between rookies Stanley Johnson and Justise Winslow, another potential Pistons draft target.