AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – A swarm of media surrounded point guard Chauncey Billups as soon as he emerged from the practice facility locker room Monday morning.

There were no visible signs of the gash he received that caused him to bleed from the mouth and nose in the fourth quarter, courtesy of being pounded by three members of the Heat impeding his drive to the basket.

He eventually lost his cool after the non-call and picked up a technical foul. So did Rasheed Wallace and a five-point lead suddenly turned into a 15-4 spurt for the visitors and an uncharacteristic defensive collapse for the Pistons in a 113-104 loss to Miami, giving the Heat back home-court advantage in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals series.

About 15 minutes after the media grilled him, Billups put the entire series in perspective-his and his team’s-for the Detroit Free Press:

“I just feel like if we come out and play the way we have to play, we’ll be in the Finals. If we don’t we’ll be watching the Finals. It’s just that plain and simple. If we come out and do what we’re supposed to do we can get to where we want to get. If we don’t that team is good enough to send us home.

“It’s all about us and not them. That’s how it has always been. It’s about us.”

It’s a good time to start playing the right way for the Pistons, who have been here before.

They were down, 3-1, to Orlando two years ago and rallied to win the series in seven games. Last year, they trailed New Jersey, 3-2, going back to East Rutherford, N.J., after three straight losses and pulled out the series in seven games. This year they trailed Indiana, 2-1, in round two before winning the next three games, so Billups’ confidence isn’t surprising. The Pistons haven’t been able to stop O’Neal and Wade the last two games. Wade’s confidence is soaring and O’Neal said his bruised right thigh is getting better by the day, bad news on both fronts for the defending champs, who have given up an average of 38 points per game to Wade in his last two outings.

“His jump shot was definitely on last night,” said Tayshaun Prince of Wade’s performance. “When you make shots like that you get hot. A team shoots 60% in the first half, it’s not by luck. They had some easy baskets and they made some tough shots. Despite all that, we were down two points.

“There are some adjustments that need to be made. They didn’t run that many pick-and-rolls last night. It was more individual. Wade made shots from the outside and inside and they made three-pointers. Shaq is a problem and I don’t know what you can do about that, but we have to help each other out a little bit more.”

Eddie Jones and Rasual Butler, complimentary players along with Damon Jones, have made just enough plays to keep the Pistons on their heels.

“We lost last night, they played good and you have to give them some credit, but our confidence definitely isn’t shaken,” Billups said. “This definitely brings back some memories, but our team is always at its best when our backs are against the wall. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have been good yesterday, because we should have, but we weren’t. It’s a 2-1 series right now and it’s just like everyone expected; it’s a great series.

“We either do what we have to do or we go home, it’s as simple as that. I think it’s more on us to do what we’re supposed to do rather than anything they’re doing to us.”

Billups was adamant that the frustration exhibited on Sunday was a result of tangling with veteran officials Dan Crawford and Joe Forte more than it was the pushing and banging with O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning.

“I told you all last night and I’m going to tell you all again, it wasn’t them that frustrated us,” Billups said. “I ain’t going to get into it, but I told you all last night it wasn’t the Heat, so you all draw your own conclusions.”

There were 62 personal fouls called in the game and 97 free throw attempts ; 54 by Miami and 43 by the Pistons . A player from each side-Mourning and Billups-fouled out of the game.

Detroit’s championship poise displayed in Game 1 was replaced by bickering with the refs and poor shot selection after the home team took a five-point lead in the fourth.

“We seemed to be going through the motions last night and the night before,” Antonio McDyess said. “Last night was definitely sickening watching. To score that many points for us is good, but we weren’t doing it defensively. We didn’t play the way we normally play. They have two great players on that ballclub, but we can’t panic. We have to play like we normally play and not like the last two games. The last two games we definitely haven’t been playing defense. There’s no excuse for the way we’ve played.

“Hopefully we can come through this. They went through the same thing last year, but I wasn’t here. They said they went through a worst situation last year than this. It’s just 2-1 and we’re not trying to panic or anything, but I am because they have a ring and I want one, so every time I go out there I’m playing with a sense of urgency.”

Richard Hamilton had a slightly calmer outlook.

“We’ve been here before,” Hamilton said. “We know what it takes. We know we can’t take a possession off. We know every point and every possession is important late in the game. We’re a veteran team and we know how to react during those critical times.”

(c) 2005, Detroit Free Press.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): pistons

AP-NY-05-30-05 2120EDT

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