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|Allen Iverson went for 24 points in his debut with Detroit, which was torched by Devin Harris.|
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- First, a disclaimer: It was only Allen Iverson's first game with his new team, and we're not going to rush to judgment too strongly either way on Detroit's newest acquisition.
Still, after witnessing 48 minutes of A.I. in a darker shade of blue, the lasting impression from the first impression was this: What Pistons president Joe Dumars did earlier this week was more about Rodney Stuckey than about Iverson.
When Detroit needed buckets in the fourth quarter, it was Stuckey running the show at the point, with Iverson off the ball.
And when the Pistons needed stops in the second half, it was Stuckey who continually was getting burned by Devin Harris (career-high 38 points, with 22 of his 24 free throw attempts coming in a second half in which Detroit surrendered 64 points to one of the NBA's worst teams). All that time, Pistons coach Michael Curry refused to switch Iverson onto Harris -- even as Stuckey was committing five fourth-quarter fouls on Harris.
"Stuckey's the point, and Harris is the point. What we do here in Detroit, you guard your position. And when he comes into the game, Allen slides to the 2. and if Devin Harris is outplaying you, you're going to have to get better. That's what you're going to have to do -- play your matchup," Curry said.
Iverson finished with a very respectable stat line of 24 points and six assists, getting to the free throw line 13 times. He attempted eight of Detroit's 21 field goal attempts in the final 12 minutes, but almost never as the initiator of the offense.
That job was Stuckey's, and over the final 8 1/2 minutes it was striking how puzzling it seemed to have Iverson playing off the ball, setting up on the perimeter along with Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton to wait and see what Stuckey could create. Iverson performed that role in Denver, too, but that was with a point guard, Anthony Carter, whose biggest strengths are playing defense and getting the team into its offense. And at this point in their careers, it's fair to say Carter is every bit as good a point guard as Stuckey is, except when it comes to scoring.
"I took what they gave me," Iverson said. "The whole thing coming in, from Michael Curry and Joe Dumars, and even my teammates: They told me 'Don't worry about fitting in here. Play your game. That's what you're here for. And the only way I can help this team is to play my game."
Before this night turned into the Devin Harris show, the Pistons actually played quite efficiently in their first 24 minutes with Iverson on board. He was 3-for-3 from the field and 6-for-6 from the line at the half -- the free throws coming after he drew contact attacking the basket -- as the Pistons went ahead by as many as 14.
Iverson shredded the Nets' defense and found Prince open for a 3 that gave the Pistons a 56-54 lead midway through the third, but New Jersey went ahead by the end of the quarter and stayed in front throughout the fourth as Detroit settled for too many 3-point shots (10 of their 21 attempts in the quarter) in an offense that never found a rhythm. It was then that you said to yourself: This is where Chauncey Billups used to be so valuable, and this is where A.I.-- not Stuckey -- should be the one breaking down the defense and opening up some space for his teammates.
Time will tell whether Curry gives Iverson a larger role in running the fourth-quarter offense, and the bottom line of this trade is that it truly cannot be judged until winter has come and gone, the regular season has ended and we see whether the Pistons in the playoffs are a much more well-oiled team than they appeared Friday night.
As I told Dumars before the game, I think the newer version of the Pistons has a better shot at defeating the Cavs or Celtics in a seven-game series than the older version did. But at some point, Curry is going to have to let Iverson be Iverson -- even if it comes at the expense of Stuckey's development.
"I didn't try to force a whole bunch of things, but when I saw an opportunity to strike, I did," Iverson said. "I'm satisfied with it. I'm pretty sure that, as time goes by, I'll get more aggressive because I'll know my spots and I'll know when to go to the basket and when to pull back."
But he'll need the ball in his hands to do either of those things, and unless Curry decides to enable Iverson to do what he does best -- by putting the ball in his hands early on offense and letting him lend a hand defensively when Stuckey is getting torched -- the feeling here is that this trade for The Answer is not going to solve the question of why the Pistons don't have more championship hardware to show for being the strongest, most consistent team in the East throughout this decade.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.