Wednesday , Jun , 02 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Pistons win ugly, advance to NBA Finals

Auburn Hills, MI (Sports Network) – Richard Hamilton scored 21 points and Ben
Wallace added 12 with 16 rebounds, as the Detroit Pistons advanced to the NBA
Finals for the first time in 14 years with a 69-65 victory over Indiana.

Rasheed Wallace chipped in 11 points and 11 boards for the Pistons, who
captured the Eastern Conference finals four games to two and advanced to the
NBA Finals for the first time since winning it all in 1990. They will face the
Los Angeles Lakers, winners in six games over Minnesota in the Western
Conference Finals.

The game was tied at 59-59 with less than four minutes to play when Indiana
forward Ron Artest elbowed Hamilton in the face, drawing a flagrant foul and
putting a stamp on the game’s turning point.

“I don’t know if he hit me with a forearm or hit me with a fist, but he hit me
with something,” Hamilton said. “It wasn’t anything I haven’t seen before. It
energized me — I’m happy I got hit.”

The Pistons outscored Indiana 10-6 the rest of the way, prompting cheers from
a home Palace crowd that booed lustily during a record-setting poor first
half.

“We never could get a lead, and that play put [the Pacers] back on their
heels,” Detroit coach Larry Brown said of Artest’s flagrant foul.

Jermaine O’Neal led Indiana with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Artest
scored 11 with 10 boards. The Pacers have now lost all six playoff series in
their NBA history when trailing a best-of-seven set 3-2.

“I was very proud to be in that locker room with a bunch of guys who aren’t
satisfied,” said Indiana coach Rick Carlisle, who was 100-64 as head coach of
Detroit from 2001-2003. “I’m really hurt by losing.”

The teams set a shot-clock-era record for futility with just 60 combined
points in the first half — only eight days after they set the previous mark
for any playoff half with 59 points in second half of Game 2, a 72-67 Indiana
win.

Detroit trailed 33-27 at the break and was behind 50-46 heading into the
fourth, but Chauncey Billups tied the game twice with a pair of three-pointers
during a 2:12 span of the fourth quarter.

Hamilton put the Pistons ahead for good with a pair of free throws after
Artest’s flagrant foul, making it 61-59. Rasheed Wallace followed with a
rebound dunk to give Detroit a four-point lead with 3:44 remaining.

Hamilton was then called for a technical foul for going after Artest, but
Reggie Miller missed the free throw for Indiana and rimmed out a three-pointer
moments later.

The Pistons kept their distance after that, and sealed the game on Tayshaun
Prince’s three-pointer with 46 seconds remaining, which made it 67-61. The
shot came after Artest missed a dunk at the other end.

The final point total was the second-lowest in NBA playoff history.

“It might be ugly for some people, but my wife and I enjoyed it,” Brown said.
“As a coach who respects hard play and effort, I was glad to be part of this.”

The Pacers, who had been 9-0 in these playoffs when leading after three
periods, made just 156 field goals in this series — a new NBA low. They were
24-of-66 from the floor in this one.

“We need to do a lot of things better to have a chance to get to the next
step,” Carlisle said. “There was a little bit of a lid on the hoop tonight.”

But the big story in the first half was Detroit’s poor shooting.

The Pistons suffered through an especially horrendous first quarter, shooting
just 3-of-17 from the field and falling behind by as many as 14 points after a
17-5 run by Indiana that lasted more than half of the period.

The Pacers, who shot nearly 53 percent in the first on the way to a 23-11
lead, had seven different players score before Detroit reached 10 points.

But in one stretch of the second quarter, Indiana went nearly seven minutes
without scoring until an O’Neal bucket in the lane made it 27-16 inside the
6:00 mark.

The Pistons followed that with an 8-0 burst, their only real offensive surge
in the first half, and pulled within 27-24 on Ben Wallace’s bucket inside the
3:00 mark.

They would get as close as three again when Rasheed Wallace’s three-pointer
made it 30-27 in the waning moments, but Austin Croshere responded with a
three to give Indiana a 33-27 lead at halftime.

The Pacers’ shooting dropped off after the first quarter on the way to a 39
percent clip at the half. Detroit shot just 24 percent in the first half.

In the third quarter, Indiana led by as many as eight points several times,
but the Pistons pulled as close as 47-46 on a Hamilton jumper with 49 seconds
remaining in the period.

However, Anthony Johnson’s clutch three-pointer at the other end as time ran
out gave the Pacers a 50-46 lead heading into the fourth.

DET IND