Vet­eran Pis­tons Close Out Magic

Bal­anced Detroit Com­pletes Sweep

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports -

OR­LANDO, April 28 — The Or­lando Magic had the lead, the mo­men­tum and the crowd sup­port. The Detroit Pis­tons used their post­sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence to over­come all of it.

Chauncey Billups scored 25 points, Richard Hamil­ton added 19 and the Pis­tons avoided a fourthquar­ter melt­down to beat the Magic, 97-93, Satur­day and sweep the first-round se­ries.

“The one thing we had such a big ad­van­tage on them is ex­pe­ri­ence, and the only way you can get bet­ter at that is to go through it,” Billups said. “I’m sure there are a lot of things they would change com­ing down the stretch.”

The sweep was Detroit’s first in the play­offs since 1990, when the “Bad Boys” won a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive NBA ti­tle.

The Pis­tons hand­ily won the first three games of the best-of-seven se­ries, but the finale was much more dif­fi­cult — mostly be­cause Detroit went cold to start the fi­nal pe­riod.

The Pis­tons were ahead 78-69 early in the fourth, but af­ter miss­ing 11 of 13 shots to start the pe­riod they found them­selves trail­ing 85-80 with about three min­utes re­main­ing.

But the vet­eran team, which has ad­vanced to four con­sec­u­tive East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals, took con­trol down the stretch.

Rasheed Wal­lace hit a three­p­ointer that made it 85-83. Chris Web­ber fol­lowed with a hook shot in the lane. Then Billups and Hamil­ton took over, com­bin­ing to score Detroit’s fi­nal 12 points.

Hamil­ton made a jumper in the lane to put the Pis­tons ahead 87-86, then Billups sank a driv­ing layup high off the glass. Hamil­ton fol­lowed with an­other jumper — both came over un­der­sized point guard Jameer Nelson — that made it 91-88.

The duo also went 6 of 6 from the free throw line in the fi­nal 21 sec­onds.

“It was good for us to step up and make plays the we did,” Tayshaun Prince said. “Ob­vi­ously, our lead­er­ship and our vet­er­ans kicked it into gear.”

Dwight Howard had 29 points and 17 re­bounds — dom­i­nat­ing the post for the only time in the se­ries — to lead the Magic. Wal­lace, Web­ber and oth­ers bot­tled up Howard in the first three games but had less suc­cess Satur­day.

Howard was 10 of 15 from the field and 9 of 17 from the free throw line.

Grant Hill, pos­si­bly play­ing his fi­nal game for Or­lando, had 17 points. Darko Mili­cic added 14 — half of them in the clos­ing min­utes. It wasn’t enough, though. “I thought we would at least get one [game],” Hill said. “Get­ting swept, that was a sur­prise.”

All five Detroit starters scored in dou­ble fig­ures. Prince and Wal­lace had 13 points apiece, and Web­ber fin­ished with 11 points, 10 re­bounds and 4 as­sists.

The Pis­tons can only hope their starters con­tinue play­ing the way they did against Or­lando.

Detroit, which won all eight games against the Magic this sea­son, will face the win­ner of the Chicago-Mi­ami se­ries. The Bulls lead 3-0 head­ing into Sun­day’s Game 4.

No NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit.

The Magic looked like it would send the se­ries back to Detroit, but the Pis­tons closed out the fi­nal three quar­ters strong.

BY DOUG BENC — GETTY IMAGES

The Magic’s Hedo Turkoglu watches the Pis­tons’ Car­los Delfino go in for a layup. “Our vet­er­ans kicked it into gear,” said Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince.

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