Nov. 30, 2021 was Chauncey Billups’ first time in the head coach’s chair against his former team but this week’s matchup was a little different.
Billups, a Detroit Pistons legend who earned a NBA Finals MVP and three All-Star berths with the franchise from 2002-08, was hired as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers last June. The Pistons traveled to play Portland at the end of November. Billups had a chance to greet several Pistons staff members he has long been friends with, including longtime play-by-play color commentator Greg Kelser.
Monday was the first time Billups came back to Detroit as a head coach — and it ended with a victory. The Blazers defeated the Pistons, 119-115, and Billups relished the opportunity to return to an arena that has his jersey hanging in the rafters.
“It’s always so much fun to come back here,” Billups said before the game. “I have so many lifelong relationships here. True story, when the schedule came out, this was the first thing I looked at. I looked to see when I would be coaching in Detroit and secondly, I looked at Denver, it’s crazy. I was like man, we’ve got a back-to-back, I won’t be able to really see all the people I would like to see, but these are the best years of my life that I spent here in the city, with this organization, obviously not only on the floor, off the floor too.
“My youngest daughter was born here. My other two were pretty much raised here a big chunk of their childhood. So, it’s always just so many great memories in this town, in this city, and I know this is not the Palace of Auburn Hills, but it is the same organization, the same franchise and many of the same people. So, I’m always just so humbled and so happy to be able to come back.”
Billups, who played for seven teams during his 17-year career and retired with the Pistons in 2014, had long desired a head coach or general manager role. He had several talks with the Pistons over the years, but ultimately joined the Los Angeles Clippers as their lead assistant coach in November 2020 before joining the Blazers.
Portland led the Pistons by 23 points early in the third quarter Monday, but a 50-24 run nearly allowed Detroit to pull off a comeback win. But the Pistons were hobbled by turnovers, committing 19 to create 30 Blazers points. Both teams were shorthanded, and the Blazers were without Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic and several other key rotation players.
“Yes, it’s good winning against this team,” Billups said. “I mean, any time you come here, you obviously want to win no matter where you’re at. But this place is always, of course, extra special to me, so it’s fun to win, for sure.”
Billups also gave his well wishes to George Blaha, who underwent heart surgery on March 15 and is recovering. Blaha will miss the rest of the 2021-22 season.
“Lastly, I just want to send my love to one of the greatest to ever do it in George Blaha,” he said. “I hate that I’m not going to be able to see him today and give him a big squeeze, that’s my guy. But hopefully, he has a really, really speedy recovery and he’s back to doing his thing. He’s one of the greatest ever. Make sure to give my guy some love.”
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