Fight to the Finish Rasheed Wallace, Pistons force Game 7 in San Antonio

Posted: June 22, 2005

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — It has not been the prettiest of NBA Finals, but it has been among the most competitive in recent memory. These Detroit Pistons, who never go away without a fight, and these San Antonio Spurs, who grind you into dust beneath their feet.

Last night, it was the Pistons who refused to let this city party, as it was so desperate to do. Detroit gave the Spurs a lot of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton early, and the rest of its tough bunch late, in a 95-86 victory over the Spurs that tied these Finals at three games apiece.

The seventh and deciding game will be tomorrow night at the SBC Center.

For three quarters, Billups (21 points) and Hamilton (a game-high 23) carried the load for Detroit.

But in the fourth quarter, the clutch scoring and big plays came from the likes of Lindsey Hunter (all four of his points were in the last 12 minutes), Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince.

But it was Rasheed Wallace - plagued by foul trouble for most of the night, and vilified for leaving Robert Horry open in the waning moments of overtime in Game 5 - who really came through for the Pistons, scoring seven of his 16 points in the last five minutes, including a put-back with 1 minute, 25 seconds remaining to give Detroit a 91-86 lead.

On the next possession, Wallace stole the ball from Manu Ginobili (21 points). And after the Spurs missed four shots from the floor on their next possession, Wallace grabbed the rebound, proving that NBA redemption is often just 48 hours away.

"Even though I did a bonehead play the other night, I just had to put it behind me," Wallace said.

" 'Sheed was big from the first play," Hamilton said. "He made plays for us. He was excited to have another opportunity to play."

In winning, the Pistons once again showed that while they may have more than a few flaws, they have a lot of heart.

After Detroit lost Game 5 at home in overtime on Horry's last-second heroics, no one thought the Pistons had any shot here. But their history suggests that they do their best work when they have nowhere else to turn.

They won on the road against Orlando in 2002, when they were down three games to two.

They beat New Jersey in New Jersey two years ago, down 3-2. They won in Indiana this year, down 2-1, and they came back against Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, winning Game 7 on the road.

"This is what our team is about," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "I kept fielding that question about how we could get ourselves ready to play again. 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."

Now, though, Detroit is in historical territory. No team has won the last two games of the Finals on the road since the league adopted the 2-3-2 format for the championship series. Then again, the Pistons hadn't won in this city since 1997, a streak of 10 straight losses, including the first two games of the Finals.

These Spurs have never been in a Game 7. The Pistons have been in a half-dozen. But San Antonio will be at home.

"It's a disappointing loss, but we play all year to have home court to have this opportunity," said Tim Duncan, who collected 21 points and 15 rebounds.

But once again, Duncan struggled at the foul line down the stretch, making just 3 of 6 free throws in the last period. And he couldn't get the ball in the final minutes, as the Spurs continued to chuck up three-point attempts (28) at an astronomical rate.

"That's too many," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "That's definitely too many. A lot of those were hurried, a matter of trying to win quickly, skipping steps. They have got to be good shots."

Detroit turned a 47-46 halftime deficit into a 71-67 lead after three quarters behind Billups - whom the Spurs have yet to stop all series - and Hamilton, who finally freed himself from the clutches of Bruce Bowen enough to score 11 third-quarter points.

But in the fourth, it was the rest of the Pistons who did in the Spurs, leaving them to fight one more time on one more day in the 54th week of their world-championship reign.

"We go back to the hotel instead of the airplane," Billups said.

Contact staff writer David Aldridge at 215-854-5516 or daldridge@phillynews.com.

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