AUBURN HILLS, MICH., JUNE 6 -- A non-prime-time start, Isiah Thomas figured, and the Detroit Pistons would be on the short end of the NBA Finals instead of having a 1-0 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers.

"If we had played at 7:30 {when games normally start at The Palace}, we would have gotten hammered," Thomas said today, after scoring a game-high 33 points and leading Detroit to a come-from-behind 105-99 victory Tuesday night that didn't start until after 9 to accommodate CBS's broadcast. "For my body, I know {it made a difference}, because I was drained."

But the Finals are played in the glare for all to see. The Trail Blazers didn't have the preferred response down the stretch. They made just three field goals the last six minutes, and their shot selection wasn't the best.

Detroit can take solace in winning despite shooting 37 percent. The Trail Blazers can see that the Pistons shot 18 more free throws than they did, outrebounded them by 54-46, yet still needed late-game heroics from Thomas -- and seven minutes of defense -- to win.

"I'm glad somebody realizes who's down in the trenches," said Detroit forward John Salley, who had eight offensive rebounds in 34 minutes. "Generals always get the star. Too bad those 20,000 guys died. But you had a great fight, general."

Detroit doesn't like winning this way. The Pistons prefer balance to one-man bands. But everyone besides Thomas shot 21 of 64 (32 percent), and the game was slipping away. Since the Pistons haven't won in Portland in 16 years, a loss here might be hard to overcome.

After his days when he was a scoring machine on teams that lost, Thomas is loath to taking 25-plus shots a game anymore. He has put the brakes on his own play, and the result is three Finals in three seasons for the Pistons.

Still, "it's probably the most difficult thing you have to do as a basketball player," he said. "You go home, you practice, you work on all your skills, you work on all your one-on-one moves. And every night I'm facing a guy that's basically at a disadvantage. Basically every night I'm playing against a guy that, offensively, I know I can take.

"But you have to fight that urge, make sure that your team excels in games, make sure that your team plays well. Once you start looking at basketball as individual competition, you lose perspective about what the sport's really all about."

It took him years to understand that, so it wouldn't be a surprise if it takes Portland a few days to adjust to the nuances of the Finals. The Trail Blazers were caught a bit off guard, for example, when the officials allowed almost all contact underneath the last six minutes.

"We've got to take better care of the ball and just execute, and we're capable of doing that," guard Clyde Drexler said. "Detroit has more of an experienced team, and that may have showed down the stretch."

Jerome Kersey, who scored 12 points in the first quarter, took just seven shots in the last three quarters and only two in the fourth. Portland's offense degenerated into Terry Porter taking outside shots, and the guard was just five of 15 on the night.

The Trail Blazers had had good success going inside, using Kevin Duckworth and Kersey to post up. They went at Bill Laimbeer and were scoring. But down the stretch, Portland abandoned that tack and the pair couldn't score.

And a team that had averaged 108.8 points in the playoffs before Tuesday doesn't get to that point again if it scores just three transition baskets -- none in the fourth period.

"The first two or three quarters, I think we ran pretty well," forward Buck Williams said. "The last quarter, we didn't run as much as we wanted to. . . . We didn't finish those breaks we had. We just did not execute and we let them slow the basketball down, force the kind of tempo that they wanted to play."

Duckworth's low-post play has been slow to return since he broke his hand at the end of the Trail Blazers' first-round series with Dallas. Because he's had trouble holding the ball, Portland set him outside more for jumpers off its pick-and-roll play. But that probably will change.

"He's the best low-post player we have," Trail Blazers Coach Rick Adelman said. "If we're going to win this series, we're going to have to go inside a little bit. The team, and Kevin, is going to have to realize he's got his whole game back now, let's take advantage of that. Kevin has to be more aggressive posting up, and we have to find him."

His reserves did not have a sterling night (seven points on three-of-12 shooting), so Adelman said he would probably alter his rotation and go with fewer players.

"I think we have to keep two or three of our {starting} guys on the floor," he said.