CLEVELAND (AP) – Once again pushed to the edge of elimination, the Detroit Pistons stepped up like champions.
Summoning all their postseason experience and making all the big plays down the stretch, the Pistons beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 84-82 on Friday night to even their series 3-3 and force a decisive Game 7.
That will take place on Sunday at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., where until Game 5 of this series, the Pistons had looked invincible.
Rasheed Wallace, whose Game 4 prediction of a victory and quick end to the series backfired, scored 24 points, Richard Hamilton had 17 and Chauncey Billups 15 for the Pistons, who grabbed several key offensive rebounds in the final minutes to deny the Cavaliers a trip to the Eastern Conference finals against Miami.
Detroit’s win wasn’t secure until the final tick of the clock, when a free throw intentionally missed by LeBron James was nearly tipped into the basket, another unlucky bounce for the Cavs.
James finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. But Cleveland’s superstar had seven turnovers and he and his teammates weren’t able to beat the Pistons to loose balls in the final three minutes.
Detroit has made a habit of winning Game 6s with its season on the line.
Last year, the Pistons were down 3-2 in the conference finals before rallying to beat Miami in seven games. In 2004, they won Game 6 at New Jersey and then ousted the Nets in Game 7. A year earlier, Detroit won a Game 6 at Orlando and then ended the Magic’s season in the next game.
Trailing 77-76 after two free throws by James, Wallace flung up a shot in the lane and was fouled. His three-point play gave the Pistons a lead they would never let go.
After James was stripped on a spin in the foul lane, Billups hit a jumper from the top of the key as the 24-second shot clock expired, giving Detroit an 81-77 lead with 2:21 remaining.
James, driving to the hoop every chance he could, made four straight free throws to pull the Cavaliers within 83-81 with 1:04 left. Wallace missed a jumper, but Tayshaun Prince tipped the ball to Hamilton, allowing the Pistons to kill more time off the clock. Wallace missed again, but Hamilton ran down the long rebound in the corner before the Cavs fouled Wallace.
Detroit’s motor-mouthed forward missed both free throws, but Cleveland’s Flip Murray couldn’t corral the rebound and Billups was put on the line. He split a pair with 10.1 seconds left, giving the Cavaliers a final chance.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown was screaming for his team to call a timeout, but before they could James was fouled with 1.4 seconds to play. James, who went 15-of-18 from the line, swished the first.
He pushed the second one left on purpose and Ilgauskas nearly got a miraculous bounce off the top of the glass.
Reeling in the third quarter, the Pistons relied on their long-range game to straighten out their offense.
Wallace made two 3-pointers, the last one with 5.9 seconds left, and Detroit made four 3s in the final 4:51 of the period to take a 63-61 lead into the final quarter.
Needing a play from their superstar, James came through with one in the third quarter as impressive as almost any this season.
With the ball at the top of the key, James slid to the right past Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups, dribbled down the lane and delivered a dunk over Ben Wallace, the league’s top defensive player four of the past five years.
James wasn’t done, either. After Prince’s 3-pointer put the Pistons up 47-45, James responded with a 3-pointer from the corner. Ilgauskas then hit a fadeaway, and James put the Cavs ahead by five with a steal and swooping layup.
Spurs 91, Mavericks 86
DALLAS – Michael Finley hit back against the Dallas Mavericks, and the San Antonio Spurs are still alive.
After absorbing the low blow that got Mavericks guard Jason Terry suspended, Finley ignored the taunts from the Dallas fans who used to adore him and scored 16 points to help the Spurs to a 91-86 victory Friday night, forcing a Game 7 in a series that certainly deserves to end that way.
Finley scored 10 points in the third quarter to help San Antonio hang close, then made the go-ahead basket on a 3-pointer from the right corner with 2:45 left – and Dallas’ 7-foot star Dirk Nowitzki running at him.
Finley then defended Nowitzki on a missed 3-pointer that could’ve tied it with 6.9 seconds left. The off-balanced shot landed well short. Tony Parker got the rebound, was fouled and hit both shots, sealing the Spurs’ second straight salvation of their title defense.
The Spurs could become only the ninth team to overcome a 3-1 deficit – and the second this season. Phoenix did it in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Six of the other winners were at home for Game 7, just like San Antonio will.
The only solace for the Mavs is that they’ll get back Terry, their second-leading scorer.
Terry was suspended for punching Finley between his legs during a loose-ball scramble in the closing seconds of Game 5.
He joined the team at an afternoon shootaround, but had to watch the game at home.
They could’ve used his jumper and perhaps his ball-handling because Devin Harris struggled without him, especially down the stretch. Nowitzki did all he could with 26 points, 21 rebounds and five assists – team-bests in all three categories – but it wasn’t enough.
Manu Ginobili had 30 points and 10 rebounds, and Tim Duncan had 24 points and eight rebounds.