AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Detroit Pistons have been searching for reliable backups for all-star guards Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton for years.
They might have finally found them.
With Hamilton sidelined with a sore hip, rookies Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo stepped up to help the Pistons end Phoenix's seven-game winning streak with a 110-105 overtime victory last night.
Reserve guard Juan Dixon (calf) was also out, and Lindsey Hunter had only played once since Christmas, so there was a lot riding on the rookies. Afflalo started and played tough defense on Steve Nash, while Stuckey provided key offense in the second half and overtime.
"This game is another vindication for the young guys," said Billups, who scored nine of his 32 points in overtime. "I have an unbelievable amount of confidence in those guys."
Stuckey hit three jumpers in 60 seconds to give Detroit a 80-73 lead with 11:11 to play, and kept the final possession of regulation alive with an offensive rebound.
"That's easily the best game he's had," Billups said. "He hit some shots, he played good defense and he got some tough rebounds."
Stuckey missed the first 25 games of the season with a broken left hand, so he's happy to get important minutes against a good team.
"Every game like this is going to help me for the playoffs," he said.
"I've been working hard on my jumper and it paid off tonight."
For the Suns, the loss was doubly frustrating since they face the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics tomorrow.
"This would have been huge for us in the Western Conference, but it obviously wasn't in the cards," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said.
"Now we have to go to Boston and try to get one there."
Phoenix was unhappy with the officiating all night - Amare Stoudemire picked up a technical in the first quarter - but it was especially disappointed in some late calls.
First, a foul on Nash resulted in Billups' three-point play that gave the Pistons a 107-105 lead with 1:01 left in overtime.
After Nash missed a shot, Shaquille O'Neal fouled Antonio McDyess on the rebound and McDyess hit both free throws to give the Pistons a four-point advantage.
"I would have liked to see some consistency in the calls," O'Neal said. "They [the Pistons] had help, there's no two ways about it."
Wallace had 23 points and nine rebounds for Detroit, while Stoudemire led Phoenix with 33.
The game was close throughout the first half, with neither team leading by more than five points.
After 14 lead changes and 16 ties, the Pistons took a 51-50 lead into the intermission.
Not much changed in the third, with Stuckey's late jumper giving Detroit a 76-73 lead at the end of the quarter. The Pistons expanded the lead to seven in the opening seconds of the fourth.
Nash answered with two baskets and an assist in a 10-2 run that tied it with 5:35 to play.
O'Neal's three-point play gave the Suns a 90-87 lead, but Grant Hill missed a pair of free throws that could have given the Suns a cushion. That let Billups tie it with a pair from the line with 1:31 left.35.00502 -87.82111