Sunday , May , 21 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Detroit’s “D” leads team to Eastern finals

Auburn Hills, MI (Sports Network) – Tayshaun Prince scored 20 points and
Detroit’s defense came up big at the brink of elimination, as the Pistons
advanced to the Eastern Conference finals with a 79-61 victory over the
Cleveland Cavaliers in the deciding Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal
series at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

The Pistons will now square off against the well-rested Miami Heat for the
right to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

No matter how Detroit shot the ball, it established defensive pressure and
intensity from the game’s outset. Cleveland shot just 38.5 percent in the
first half and that percentage fell to 30.8 by the final buzzer.

“In a pressure situation, you do what you do best, and for us, that’s
defending,” said Detroit head coach Flip Saunders. “We locked down.”

Richard Hamilton donated 15 points, Chauncey Billups tallied 12 points and
grabbed eight rebounds and Rasheed Wallace recorded 13 points and eight
boards. Detroit outrebounded Cleveland, 48-36, and pulled down 13 offensive
boards.

The Pistons continued to demonstrate their ability to win pressure playoff
games, improving to 4-0 in Game 7s at home and 12-1 in close-out games since
2002.

In the end of a long seven-game series, the more complete team came out
victorious over the most complete player. LeBron James scored 21 first-half
points, but was held to six points in the face of constant double teams in the
final 24 minutes.

“We changed up how we were playing. In the first half we were playing the
pick and roll a certain way and he was coming off, getting to the basket,”
said Billups of the defense on James. “He had 21 points but had only made one
jump shot. So we changed it up, tried to make him make some jumpers. He wasn’t
comfortable with that, I guess.”

The star Cavs guard received little support from his teammates, as guard Larry
Hughes was the only other player in double figures with 10 points.

“You have to take positives out of this. There’s no reason for us to hang our
heads about this series. I’m disappointed that we lost, because we had it
right there for the taking, especially at home, but things happen,” said
James. “That’s why Detroit worked so hard all year for home-court advantage.”

Cleveland managed only 23 second-half points and withered in the face of a
15-5 Detroit spurt that spanned the end of the third and beginning of the
fourth quarter.

After Eric Snow converted 1-of-2 free throw attempts to bring the Cavs within
48-46 in the third quarter, Detroit used a quarter-closing surge to leave
little room for fourth-period drama.

Prince made one free throw, veteran Lindsey Hunter made back-to-back baskets
then Ben Wallace scored from in close. Hughes drained two free throws, but
Rasheed Wallace connected on 1-of-2 from the charity stripe and Prince’s
driving layup with six ticks left gave the Pistons a 58-48 advantage.

A Prince tip-in off his own miss gave Detroit a 63-51 lead early in the fourth
quarter, and Hamilton’s mid-range jumper opened a 67-52 edge with 5:38
remaining.

Cleveland never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way, as Detroit’s
huge sigh of relief could be felt throughout the Palace over the game’s final
few minutes.

The Cavaliers had several chances to put the Pistons away during Game 6 on
Friday, but Detroit survived, 84-82, and then cruised in the second half on
Sunday to come back from a 3-1 series deficit.

“We can catch our breath for about eight hours, and then we start getting
ready for Miami,” said Saunders. “It’s going to help that we’re at home, and
don’t have to be on a plane for four hours.”

Fueled by the home crowd, Detroit scored the game’s first seven points. Prince
scored five of those points, and Rasheed Wallace’s jumper extended the lead to
19-6 with 3:30 left.

Cleveland settled down and went on a 9-2 run to end the period and get back in
the game.

James’ dunk off a great lob pass from Hughes tied the game, 29-29, with 6:13
remaining in the half. Detroit’s lead grew back to six at 37-31 on a pair of
free throws by Hamilton, but three free throws by the Cavs in the half’s final
minute made the score 40-38.

The Cavs star guard was the only player in double figures with 21 points
while Hamilton and Prince each had nine points for the Pistons.

Game Notes

Detroit made only 6-of-16 free throws in the first half, but connected on 12-
of-16 from the charity stripe in the second half…Cleveland made only 1-of-12
from beyond the arc…Ben Wallace had six points, nine rebounds and three
blocks…Hughes missed the previous four games in the series because of the
death of his younger brother…Cleveland has never come back from a 2-0
deficit to win a playoff series in its history…James was 1-of-9 from the
floor in the second half.

CLE DET