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Kuester Turns Villanueva Into Winning ‘Closer’

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If nothing else, the Pistons might have invented a new position this season: the fourth-quarter closer.

The bizarre rotation patterns of coach John Kuester have turned some reserves into last-quarter specialists. Point guard Will Bynum played the entire fourth quarter against New York and Cleveland this month after sitting out the first three. Power forward Charlie Villanueva recorded a “save” Saturday when he scored 13 fourth-quarter points after watching the first three quarters.

Villanueva had been benched against the Cavaliers on Friday, his first DNP-Coach’s Decision this season, and was surprised when Kuester brought him in against the Pacers.

“I was a little shocked,” Villanueva said. “I expected the same outcome as the last game, but at the same time, be ready. He called my name, and I was ready to go.”

Kuester explained that Villanueva was needed because Ben Wallace and Chris Wilcox were resting sore knees. But Kuester’s late-game strategies have been unconventional all season. He often sticks with second-unit players during crunch time.

“Just because you don’t start, doesn’t mean you don’t finish,” said Kuester, whose club has a rematch with the Pacers on Wednesday. “That’s one of the things that has occurred, where I’ve given guys an opportunity to play well, and if they’re playing well, I’m going to ride them.”

That would have never happened during the Pistons’ glory years, when there was a clear separation in talent between the first and second units. The Pistons have a lot of similar players now, and Kuester has constantly tinkered with the starting lineup — he’s used 21 — and his closing unit.

“We don’t have LeBron James, we don’t have Dwight Howard,” he said. “We have a collection of good players that have to play at a high level. On any given night, they’re capable of giving it to us. I’ve given them all an opportunity to be in that crunch situation and try to have somebody emerge. Sometimes it’s worked out, sometimes it hasn’t worked the way you wanted it to.”

PISTONS 100, PACERS 88: Richard Hamilton scored 23 points, and the Pistons turned 19 Indiana turnovers into 24 points as they snapped a three-game losing streak Saturday. Detroit took command with a 12-1 run midway through the third quarter.

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