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Pistons Finish Off the Pacers

Detroit defeats Indiana, 69-65, to win the Eastern finals in ugly fashion, four games to two, and earn a date with the Lakers in NBA Finals.

June 02, 2004|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Somewhere, the Lakers surely were laughing.

Or yawning.

In what passes for high-caliber Eastern Conference playoff basketball these days -- in a game that, hard to believe, matched the conference's top two teams -- the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers thrashed about for nearly three hours Tuesday night in the Palace of Auburn Hills, littering the court with bricks.

When they finished, the final score indicating that the Pistons had been slightly less inept, the Pistons could call themselves conference champions.

Though they made only 32.9% of their shots, they were 69-65 winners over the top-seeded Pacers and took the series, four games to two, to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 1990.

They'll play the Lakers starting Sunday at Staples Center.

"I don't know if it was a classic in a lot of people's eyes," Piston Coach Larry Brown said afterward, stating the obvious, "but I guess if the series was going to end, this was the kind of game it should have ended with....

"I don't know how people around the country viewed the game, but as a coach who respects hard play and effort, I was glad to be a part of it."

The Pistons and Pacers, who obviously emphasize defense, combined for the lowest-scoring conference final in the shot-clock era, the Pacers' average of 72.7 points in the series the lowest for a conference finalist since the 1954-55 season and the Pistons' average of 75.2 the second-lowest.

On Tuesday, they combined for only 60 points in the first 24 minutes, the lowest-scoring first half in NBA playoff history. The lowest-scoring half, period? The second half of Game 2 last week, when the Pistons and Pacers combined for 59.

And an ugly series finale, appropriately perhaps, turned on the ugliest play of the night, a forearm shiver delivered by Pacer stopper Ron Artest to the jaw of Piston guard Richard Hamilton with the score tied at 59-59 and 3:57 to play.

Artest was called for a flagrant foul, and Hamilton, who had been knocked to the floor, picked himself up and made two free throws.

The Pistons, who had fallen behind by 14 points in the first quarter and missed 26 of their first 31 shots, led for the first time and retained possession. Chauncey Billups missed a jumper, but Rasheed Wallace flew in from the left side and dunked the rebound, giving the Pistons a four-point cushion.

They never trailed again.

"If you were going to give up a four-point possession the way this game was going," Brown said, "that was almost a quarter's output."

Hamilton, who made seven of 15 shots on a night when the Pistons' other four starters made 16 of 53, led all scorers with 21 points. Ben Wallace had 12 points and 16 rebounds, Rasheed Wallace 11 and 11.

For the Pacers, whose 36.4% shooting actually was better than their series average of 34.9%, Jermaine O'Neal scored 20 points and took 10 rebounds.

On the pivotal play, Artest said that he was hit first, in the stomach. As the play continued, he said, Hamilton simply ran into his forearm.

"Mine was an accident," he said. "His was on purpose."

Replays indicated otherwise.

"I think it energized me," Hamilton said. "I'm happy I got hit. Sometimes it takes you to get hit like that to get you right ... and get you focused."

For the Pistons, their focus now turns to the Lakers.

Be they ever so humble, they're the best in the East.

"To think that we could win a game shooting 32% ... blows my mind," Brown said. "It might have been ugly for some people, but my wife and I enjoyed it."

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