AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The Detroit Pistons hugged former coach Larry Brown before facing him for the first time – and then played like the team that won him his only NBA championship.

Richard Hamilton scored a season-high 40 points to lead Detroit past Brown and the New York Knicks 106-98 Friday night.

Brown returned to an NBA city he used to call home for the seventh time, but acknowledged this reunion was different.

The Hall of Fame coach was fired in July, after insisting publicly he wanted to return. He filled the only void on his resume during a two-year stint in Detroit with his first NBA title in 2004 and came just short of repeating last season.

Detroit showed Brown what he was missing with a dominant third quarter, showcasing a stifling defense and an improved offense.

After the score was tied at halftime, the Pistons outscored New York 24-8 to take an 83-67 lead into the fourth quarter.

New York didn’t pose much of a comeback threat in the final quarter.

The Pistons improved to an NBA-best 12-2 and the Knicks fell to 5-10.

Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince had 19 points and 10 rebounds, Ben Wallace added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Chauncey Billups had 11 points and 11 assists, tying a season high.

New York’s starters were held to single digits until Stephon Marbury made two free throws with 1:35 left. Marbury finished with 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting, and had 11 assists. Reserves Jamal Crawford (22) and Channing Frye (21) prevented the Knicks from being routed.

Before the game, Brown said he was dreading the experience of playing the Pistons.

When Brown walked onto court, he was jeered by most of the fans who noticed him before others began to applaud. Boos were slightly louder than cheers once he was introduced.

Just before the tipoff, however, the crowd roared when the each of Detroit’s starters walked across the court to embrace Brown.

Brown appeared to be on the verge of tears when he sat back down, trying to hold back the emotional feelings he feared he would have.

The Knicks led 28-26 after the first quarter and the score was tied 59-all at halftime.

New York scored just eight points in the third, the fewest a team has scored against Detroit in a quarter this year, and was outscored by Hamilton alone 13-8 in the quarter.

The Pistons led by 19 early in the fourth quarter before the Knicks rallied to make the score look respectable.

Notes: Knicks president Isiah Thomas, who led the Pistons to titles in 1989 and 1990, was honored at halftime by having “11 Thomas” permanently placed on the sideline at The Palace. … Traffic was so bad Detroit coach Flip Saunders didn’t arrive at the arena until an hour before tipoff because his 20-minute drive took 1 hour, 45 minutes. He joked that Brown almost had to coach both teams. … Dale Davis, who has played in just three games, scored his first point with the Pistons late in the first half. … In the second quarter alone, New York’s Jerome James scored a season-high five points.

AP-ES-12-02-05 2305EST

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