Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I always said it would go to seven... what I didn't know is who would win it all.


Pistons stay alive

Detroit forces Game 7 with 95-86 win over Spurs

Tony Parker
Tony Parker drives by Antonio McDyess in the first quarter of Game 6.
John McDonough/SI

SAN ANTONIO -- Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich met at midcourt as the final buzzer sounded to exchange handshakes and a hug. Never before has there been an NBA Finals moment quite like it, and another rarity -- a Game 7 for the championship -- will unfold next.

The Detroit Pistons weren't ready to concede their title Tuesday night, and the San Antonio Spurs weren't quite good enough to earn it.

Behind the scoring of guards Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton and several clutch plays from foul-plagued Rasheed Wallace down the stretch, the defending champions displayed the resiliency they've become known for and defeated San Antonio 95-86 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

For the first time since 1994, the finals are going to a winner-take-all game.

"Not today. Not tonight. Not today. Not tonight," Billups said as he walked to the locker room after the game.

"This is how we do it," Lindsey Hunter sang as he exited the shower.

Billups made five of the Pistons' eight 3-pointers as Detroit matched its long-range output from the first five games combined. Billups scored 21, Hamilton had 23 and Wallace 16 for the Pistons, who played at their peak despite being on the brink of elimination -- just as they did in the Eastern Conference finals against Miami earlier this month.

Brown won his 100th playoff game as an NBA coach, breaking a tie with Red Auerbach for third-most in league history. If he gets No. 101 on Thursday night, he may end up retiring at the apex of his career achievements.

"I've been with these guys for two years, and they don't disappoint me in terms of their desire to win and their respect for each other," Brown said.

There were 23 lead changes and seven ties in the first three quarters before Detroit built a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter and stayed ahead the rest of the way, handing the Spurs just their sixth home loss in 52 games at the SBC Center this season.

Now, the Pistons will have to try to become the first team in finals history to win the last two games on the road. But given what they've done over the past two seasons, refusing to quit when circumstances are most dire, they have to be considered a legitimate candidate to make a little more history.

"We can fight any odds," Wallace said. "You know, a lot of people thought we were going to be out tonight, but -- they had their Cristal ready and all that stuff, but -- hey, we're going to pop it Thursday."

Once again, ball control was one of the key factors as Detroit committed just five turnovers against 19 assists. Billups played brilliantly for the second straight game, and Hamilton was not affected by the tight defense of Bruce Bowen -- even after Bowen swiped Hamilton's mask off his face in the fourth quarter. Hamilton flung the mask aside, wrinkled his nose a few times and finished the game without it.

"We're just tough as nails," Billups said. "Our motto is, 'If it ain't rough, it ain't right.' We always make it tough on ourselves, but we always find a way to climb out of that foxhole."

Duncan had 21 points and 15 rebounds, but the Spurs' offense rarely ran though him as it normally does so fluidly. Manu Ginobili also scored 21 for San Antonio, which was outscored 24-19 in the fourth quarter.

The Pistons were looking everywhere they could for motivation. A sign on the greaseboard in Detroit's locker room read: "San Antonio's parade is scheduled for Thursday!!!," and Detroit forward Darvin Ham yelled: "Anybody want Cristal? They just brought four cases to their locker room!"

But the Pistons probably didn't need any extra reason to push harder: Time and again, they've proven that pride is enough to fuel them.

The early part of the third quarter hammered home the point that the Spurs would only get as far as Ginobili, not Duncan, would take them. Ginobili was as aggressive going to the basket as he had been in Games 1 and 2, while Duncan was having difficulty freeing himself from the double-teams that he rarely saw in the first five games.

Even when he got the ball in single coverage outside, he was not in position to use his best moves. Absent the usual contributions from the two-time finals MVP, the Spurs just weren't themselves.

As for the Pistons, their offense continued to come from the clutch long-range shooting of Billups and the mid-range game of Hamilton. Billups was 6-for-13 from the field for 21 points and Hamilton was 8-of-16 for 19 points when the third quarter ended with the Pistons ahead 71-67.

A three-point play by Antonio McDyess to open the fourth quarter made it 74-67 -- the largest lead for either team to that point, and Detroit stayed ahead from there.

"We saw them get frustrated at the end, so we tried to keep the pressure on them," Detroit's Antonio McDyess said.

The Spurs held a 47-46 lead at intermission behind 12 points from Ginobili and 10 from Parker.

After San Antonio pulled to 82-81 on a 3 by Ginobili with 4:48 left, Wallace had a corner jumper, a 3-pointer and a putback as part of a 9-4 run that made it 91-86. Wallace then stole a pass by Ginobili with 1:16 left, and the Spurs were all but done.

"I did a bonehead play the other night. I just had to put it behind me," said Wallace, who left Robert Horry open for the game-winning 3-pointer in Game 5.

But that shot is part of the past, same as the blowouts from the first four games.

Now, it all comes down to one more game.

Game 7.

Notes: The Pistons previous win in San Antonio was on April 2, 1997 ... Detroit is 7-0 in the 2005 playoffs when Wallace scores more than 15 points in a game; 6-6 when he scores 15 or less. This was his first performance of more than 15 points in this year's finals. Since joining the Pistons, he has never been held to 15 points or less in six consecutive games.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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