2.11.2016

Billups a Keeper (on this night)



November 15, 1997
 
Despite recent rumors to the contrary, Chauncey Billups looked like a keeper last night.

Celtics coach Rick Pitino has spent much of his off-court time denying reports that he is trying to unload his No. 1 draft pick, who had been dismissed as being unable to play the point in Pitino's frenetic system.

If nothing else, Billups at least gave Pitino's denials some credibility. 

Against the physical Toronto Raptors, he played 29 minutes and scored 22 points in a 103-99 Celticsvictory at the FleetCenter. On defense, he was one of the hawks assigned to Damon Stoudamire, and his quickness made a difference. Even with 17 points and 9 assists, the Raptor point guard would confess he had a bad night.

Dana Barros, Dee Brown, and Tyus Edney were all effective in their tours of duty against Stoudamire. But Billups drew the most praise.

"I tried to be more aggressive tonight," he said. "When you go through a game like this against a Stoudamire, you want to make him play defense also and don't make his job so easy. He's always going to come at you offensively, so you have to go out and keep him on his toes."

In this modest two-game winning streak, Billups has gotten the job done and then some.

"All I can tell you," said Pitino, "is that Chauncey gets better and better with each practice. Better and better with each game. He's now starting to explode. He doesn't turn his back to the guy as much.

"I think it's just a matter of adjustment from college to the pros, and he's adjusting quite well. I think by midseason, we will have ourselves a terrific guard. I thought we played great on Stoudamire, who himself is a wonderful guard."

For the second straight game, the Celtics clicked on offense and defense, and Billups was a key to both. Earlier in the season, he struggled because of inexperience. No longer.

" I'm getting a little more confident," he said. "I'm starting to play on instinct like I've always done. As I learn my teammates, I'll start playing even better basketball.

"I didn't stop Damon all by myself. It had a lot to do with team defense. He got by me a lot, but there was always somebody running around and covering. We're jelling. Everybody is learning everybody else's game and tendencies. You can sense that."

It made no sense to Billups when his name came up in trade talks. A firm denial by Pitino - who of course has publicly acknowledged that he is prone to changing his mind - calmed his fears.

"I'm not worried," said Billups. "I can't control what everybody is saying. What's going to happen is going to happen. I just have to come to practice each day and play hard. I do realize that I'm not the best player on this team. Antoine Walker is the guy who needs to take charge. When we get to that point, I need to be the guy to get Antoine the ball. I might be there one day with experience. Right now Antoine is the guy."

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