MINNEAPOLIS -- With mentor Chauncey Billups watching his every move from the sideline, rookie Rodney Stuckey did his best "Mr. Big Shot" impression for the Detroit Pistons' "B" squad.
As Billups has done so many times before in a Detroit uniform, Stuckey did much of his damage when his team needed him most, scoring 12 of his career-high 27 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Pistons to a 94-90 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
"I've always said he's one of those guys, the bigger the game, the bigger the situation, the more responsibility he has and he wants," said Pistons coach Flip Saunders, who gave Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton the night off to rest up for the playoffs. "He took that responsibility and made plays."
Detroit trailed by 21 points midway through the second quarter, but after a pep talk from Billups and 'Sheed, Stuckey took over in the fourth. He hit a step-back jumper over Randy Foye to give the Pistons a 90-88 lead with 45 seconds to go and added three free throws down the stretch.
"We just came in at halftime and Rasheed and Billups and those guys said I wasn't being aggressive enough," said Stuckey, the 15th overall pick out of Eastern Washington. "In the second half I was just trying to be more aggressive and get the ball to the basket."
Al Jefferson had 26 points and seven rebounds, but only managed 12 shots while being hounded by double- and triple-teams all night.
Foye scored 18 points, but was just 6-for-14 from the field, committed a costly turnover in the closing minutes and rushed an off-balance shot out of a timeout with 45 seconds to go to seal the loss.
It was a demoralizing loss for the improving Timberwolves, who had won four straight at home and seven of their last 12 overall to ease the sting of a 5-34 start to the season. They led this one by 21 points in the second quarter, but relaxed with the big lead and Detroit's big guns dressed in street clothes.
"We're very disappointed we let this one go," Wolves forward Craig Smith said. "We really beat ourselves by letting them back into the ballgame."
Detroit started the night six games back of first-place Boston in the East and 5½ ahead of third-place Orlando, making its standing as the No. 2 seed about as close to a sure thing as could be with the playoffs just nine games away.
With that in mind, president of basketball operations Joe Dumars told Saunders that it might be a good idea to get some of his weary veteran starters some rest. So Wallace, Billups and Hamilton watched from the bench as Stuckey, Arron Afflalo and Walter Herrmann took over for the night.
The Timberwolves shot 68 percent in the first quarter and were cruising against the jayvee team early, using an 11-0 run from their own bench players to take a 41-20 lead with eight minutes to play in the first half.
But the Pistons closed the half on a 14-0 run, cutting the deficit to 49-44 at the break. A 7-0 spurt in the fourth tied the game at 72.
"I think we gave this game away in the last six minutes of the second quarter," Wolves coach Randy Wittman said.
The Timberwolves came back with a 3-pointer by Marko Jaric and a three-point play by Ryan Gomes, but Stuckey's three-point play tied the game again and Afflalo hit two free throws to give Detroit its first lead of the game, 84-83, with 4:10 to go.
Jefferson came back with two free throws and a perfect pass out of a triple-team that ended up in a 3-pointer by Foye to put the Wolves back in front.
But Foye tried to force feed a pass to a double-covered Jefferson with one minute to go that Jason Maxiell stole, setting up the big shot from Stuckey.
"At this level, everybody can play," said Afflalo, who had seven points and harassed Rashad McCants into a 2-for-10 night. "Everybody has to have that ability, that clutch ability to finish a game because we will be called on at some point. It feels good that everybody pretty much stepped up to the plate."
Timberwolves coach, and former Hoosier, Wittman on Indiana's decision to hire Tom Crean: "I think he'll do a good job. I know him a little bit. I think he's going to do well. A quality coach." ... Wolves rookie Corey Brewer scored 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first quarter, but went scoreless and missed all four of his shots the rest of the way.