LOS ANGELES Chauncey Billups knew what people were whispering the night he crumbled to the floor last Feb. 6 in Orlando. He could hear them talking.
Retirement. The end of the line. A great career with a tragic ending.
But Billups said the thought never entered his mind. A ruptured Achilles tendon was not the way he was going to leave the game, not in his 15th season in the NBA and his first with the Clippers.
When I went down, I wasnt going to hear the word no or Hes done, he said. I wasnt going to listen to none of yall. I wasnt going to give in to that.
Wednesday night at Staples Center, Billups finally made it back. He walked onto the court at Staples Center to a standing ovation and helped the Clippers end their four-game losing streak with a 101-95 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Billups played 19 minutes and 24 seconds, scored seven points and gave the Clippers an added presence in the backcourt with point guard Chris Paul. He was on the floor for the last four minutes of the game and threw an alley-oop pass that teammate DeAndre Jordan slammed for a dunk and a 97-93 lead with 16.6 seconds left.
Although hes not in game condition yet, Billups said he knew it was time to get back in uniform.
Its going to be a month or two before Im back to myself, he said. But whenever it is, the team needs me now.
Theres no doubt about that. After an 8-2 start, the Clippers had fallen into a state of disarray, especially on the defensive end of the court. They arent fully recovered, but they had an improved cohesion against the Timberwolves and showed a resolve in their ability to close out the game in the fourth period.
They converted on most of their open shots, created turnovers and made free throws, all areas of concern during their losing streak. They also held the T-Wolves to 37.8 percent shooting, including just 3 of 12 by the usually reliable Kevin Love.
It was an ugly, hard-fought game, said Clippers forward Matt Barnes, who had 13 points and six rebounds off the bench. We had to fight hard for the game, and after losing four straight, well take a win any way we can get it.
Having Billups on the floor was a bonus. Coach Vinny Del Negro opted to start the veteran rather than bring him in off the bench but said he intended to manage Billups minutes.
Asked why he was starting Billups in his first game back, Del Negro said, Because he deserves it. Ive seen him practice, and hes been practicing with the first group. Hes a starter, and why waste time messing with the rotation? Lets get him in there.
Billups played the first six minutes, came out for a rest and didnt re-enter the game until 4:50 was left in the first half.
Right now, I feel good, he said. I played 20 minutes, but theres nothing like a game. I feel like Im in pretty decent shape, but theres nothing like a real, live game. Im pretty sure Ill be sore in the morning.
Even so, Billups said he wasnt ready to come out when Del Negro pulled him in the first quarter.
Im never ready, he said.
Paul, sitting next to him in an interview room, added, I wasnt ready for him to come out. We were talking about the play we were going to run, and he said, Im about to go out. I wanted him to play 30-something minutes.
In time, it will come. For now, Billups is just happy to be wearing a uniform instead of a suit and sitting on the sideline. Just to be out there was great, he said.
When he was injured, he knew people were saying he should simply retire, but he knew it wasnt time.
I can understand why they said that, he said. Im 35, pretty much done it all, made a good living for myself and my family, made most of my money, did everything I wanted to do. Why would I come back?
But thats just not how Im cut, man. I wanted to come back -- not to prove everybody wrong, but for my own self. I wasnt going to go out like that.