Pistons take command

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) – LeBron James prevented the Detroit Pistons from cruising to a second straight rout.

Cleveland’s star just could not do enough to even the series.

James scored 23 of his 30 points in the second half, but Rasheed Wallace scored 29 points and Tayshaun Prince had 20 to lead Detroit to a 97-91 victory over Cleveland on Tuesday night – and a 2-0 lead in their second-round series.

“We kept our composure and gave them a run for their money,” James said.

James didn’t reach double figures until midway through the third quarter, then he led a fourth-quarter rally with jumpers and driving layups through a sea of Pistons.

Cleveland pulled to 87-78 after a 10-2 run before Ben Wallace made a fadeaway shot off his own miss and Rasheed Wallace followed with a 3-pointer, forcing the Cavs to call a timeout down by 14 points with 4:31 left.

James wouldn’t let the Cavs go away.

His three-point play made it 92-87 with 1:13 left, but Richard Hamilton scored a three-point play on the ensuing possession and both players traded free throws in the final seconds.

“We had the game going through three quarters, and we got a little lax,” Detroit’s Chauncey Billups said. “We came away from our defensive scheme, and LeBron started to hurt us.”

For three-plus quarters, it didn’t look like there was much James or the Cavs, who advanced in the playoffs for the first time since 1993, could do against the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions at either end of the court.

After leading by just two points, Detroit took control of Game 2 – and perhaps the best-of-seven series – with a 13-0 run late in the first quarter and early in the second. The burst got to 19-3 and the Pistons led 37-18 before the Cavs ended a field-goal drought that lasted more than seven minutes.

“Our guys have the ability to lock down,” Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. “As a coach, you hate the term Flip the switch,’ but there’s no question they have the ability to do that.”

The Pistons were coasting until the Cavs suddenly showed signs of life midway through the fourth quarter.

The Cavs – who lost Sunday by 27 points in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated – will have plenty of time to search for a solution to turn the series around because Game 3 isn’t until Saturday in Cleveland.

Cavs coach Mike Brown was so desperate late in the first half that he resorted to a hack-a-Ben strategy, having his players intentionally foul Ben Wallace late in the first half. The tactic backfired, perhaps because Brown might’ve sent his players a message that they couldn’t slow the Pistons down any other way.

When Brown instructed his players to foul Wallace, Detroit was ahead by 16. After Wallace went 2-of-4 from the line and Rasheed Wallace made a 3-pointer off the glass, the Cavs were trailing by 21.

“I’ve seen it before, but not in the first half,” Billups said. “I was shocked.”

We were pretty much like, Wow, they showed their trump card.’ But when you’re a coach, especially a young coach, and you’re playing a veteran group like ours, after a tough Game 1, you can get a little desperate.

“He was just trying to help his team out, and it didn’t work.”

Brown acknowledged that he didn’t like telling his player to put Wallace on the line.

“But I didn’t want to use all of my timeouts, and I wanted to stop the bleeding,” he said.

Hamilton finished with 17 points, Billups had 15 points and seven assists, and Ben Wallace added 10 points and 15 rebounds.

Cleveland’s Drew Gooden had 17 points, Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 10 and reserve Anderson Varejao also added 10.

Notes: Ben Wallace was presented with the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award – for an unprecedented fourth time in five seasons – by Boston Celtics great Bill Russell before the game. … Cavs reserve Donyell Marshall was upset that his comments before Game 1 were interpreted as if he was giving up in the series. “Detroit has the knowledge from winning a championship two years ago, and going to the championship last year. I think their knowledge is going to overtake our youth right now,” he said Monday.

AP-ES-05-09-06 2237EDT

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