Rarely have the Charlotte Hornets been able to count on a center for a basket in a close game with time running out.
But Mike Gminski delivered one Friday night.With the Hornets clinging to a 3-point lead over the Detroit Pistons and less than a minute to go, Gminski worked against Detroit's James Edwards, who bumped him out toward the foul line.
Gminski, about 14 feet from the basket, rolled off Edwards and released one of his patented hook shots. It wasn't exactly a thing of beauty, slipping off his fingertips and going to the hoop like a line drive.
But it swished in, giving the Hornets some much-needed breathing room with 45 seconds to go.
``That wasn't one of my purest shots,' Gminski said with a smile, ``but it went in and when people look at the box score no one will know the difference.'
A moment later, Charlotte's Kenny Gattison rebounded a missed Detroit shot and threw a long outlet pass to Gminski, who hit the layup, drew the foul and added the free throw with 31 seconds left.
That iced the game for the Hornets, whose 122-114 win was their first ever over the Pistons in nine tries.
There were plenty of heroes for Charlotte. Johnny Newman had 27 points and 8 assists, Rex Chapman added 19 points, J.R. Reid had one of his best offensive games of late with 18 points and Kendall Gill had 17 points and 8 assists.
Off the bench, Gattison had 11 points, Muggsy Bogues had 10 assists in 19 minutes and Eric Leckner had 6 big rebounds in 16 minutes in relief of Gminski.
But it was Gminski's 25-point, 7-rebound effort that gave the Hornets what they've been looking for since they acquired him from Philadelphia in December for Armon Gilliam.
``It's starting to come back for me,' said Gminski, who was hampered by an elbow injury early in the season. ``I was just starting to play well when the trade was made.
``My elbow is fine now and I'm starting to play the way I have for the past five or six years. I'm sure this is what they expected of me when they got me.'
Gminski was shooting under 40 percent when the Hornets obtained him. He has worked that up to 42.3 and against Detroit he hit 12 of 18 on an assortment of hooks, stickbacks and long jumpers.
Victories are fewer with Charlotte than they were with the Sixers, and even though there was considerable excitement about beating Detroit, Gminski kept it in perspective.
``It was an exciting game and I got caught up in it,' he said. ``The crowd was great. It was so loud down the stretch that it was difficult to communicate.
``But I don't place too much importance on one win. Our season doesn't hinge on wins and losses. You have to look at the big picture and realize what we're trying to accomplish several years down the road.'
Still, this one compared with two other wins this season - beating Boston for the first time and downing San Antonio in a road game.
For coach Gene Littles, whose club won for only the second time in its last nine games, it was reminiscent of the first month of the season, when the Hornets won eight times. They have added only eight more since.
``Tonight our total game was right on target,' Littles said. ``This is like we played early in the season when we had five or six guys in double figures and we were scoring a lot.'
Psychologically, the win came at a perfect time, with five straight road games coming up. The trip starts tonight in Chicago and the Hornets may have to face the Bulls without Chapman, who sprained his right ankle late in the game and is listed as questionable. They're already without Dell Curry, also nursing an ankle sprain.
The Pistons were without point guard Isiah Thomas, on the injured list after an operation on his wrist. They won their first four games without him, but now have lost five of their last nine.
Joe Dumars has shifted to the point and Vinnie Johnson has moved from third guard into the starting lineup. Dumars scored 35 points Friday, but the team chemistry clearly isn't right at the moment.
``We caught them at a good time without Isiah,' Littles agreed. ``Dumars is now their only real ballhandler and we kept the pressure on. I think we bothered them bringing the ball up.'
One other thing was noticeable in its absence for Detroit - the trademark defense that has been the catalyst for two straight NBA championships.
Charlotte shot 59.5 percent and scored more points, by six, than anyone has rung up on the Pistons all season. Coach Chuck Daly did not mince his words about the effort.
``Our defense forgot to show up tonight,' he said. ``Gminski ate us alive because our defense was horrendous. Defense is where we hang our hat.'