AUBURN HILLS, MICH. -- As Bill Laimbeer's record-tying sixth three-pointer went through the basket with 4.1 seconds to play in overtime, several Detroit Pistons ran onto the court, jumping for joy. After all, they are the Detroit Pistons; they are playing at home and they are ahead, 105-104, with 4.1 seconds left. They had won 14 straight playoff games in this building. The Pistons, some of them, celebrated.

Laimbeer was more than slightly annoyed. "I told them, 'The game is not over,' " he said. " 'There's a lot of time left. You can't play for 47 minutes and 56 seconds. The game's not over.' "

Indeed, it wasn't. Clyde Drexler, a player with marvelous offensive skills who has never really proven himself to be "The Man", finished the most clutch performance of his career by taking the ball right at the NBA's defensive player of the year, Dennis Rodman.

Drexler beat Rodman down the lane and Rodman was forced to foul him with 2.1 seconds left. Drexler had missed a foul shot with 44 seconds left in regulation that nearly cost his team the game. Drexler had failed to foul Laimbeer just two seconds earlier on the three-pointer from Mars that also nearly cost Portland the game. "I was the guy," he explained later, "who was supposed to dive at Laimbeer, tackle him if necessary" to prevent him from sinking a three.

When Drexler went to the line, with Portland trailing by a single point, Kevin Duckworth said he knew Drexler would make at least one foul shot and take it to second overtime. Drexler had other ideas. He is tired of walking around the malls of suburban Detroit hearing people ask, "Where is Portland?" He is tired of being known as The Poor Man's Michael Jordan. He is tired of hearing how he's never really come up with clutch performances in the playoffs.

He had made the three-pointer to tie the game and answer Laimbeer's back-to-back threes late in the third quarter. He had hit the basket to tie the game in overtime, 96-96. He is the one who hung in the air, switched hands in mid-air when he saw Laimbeer lumbering over, and banked the ball with his left hand to keep Portland in striking distance in overtime.

Drexler said to himself, "Concentrate and make both of these." He did. Game over.

"For anybody who thinks he is not a money player, check the film of tonight's game, the shots he made in the clutch," his coach, Rick Adelman, said.

Because Drexler delivered such a key peformance, because Terry Porter made 15 straight free throws and offset Isiah Thomas, because the Portland bench was every bit as effective as Detroit's, the Trail Blazers take this series home, tied one game apiece. Detroit has lost 20 straight there. In fact, the Pistons haven't won in Portland since 1974, a few months before Richard Nixon resigned. Dave Bing was the Piston's star back then.

The Pistons probably aren't in as much trouble as the situation would suggest, however. Yes, the next three games in this 2-3-2 format will be played in Portland. But do you really believe the Trail Blazers will beat Detroit three straight games out there? The playoffs aren't like the regular season, when an Eastern Conference team travels to Portland in the middle of a 16-day, seven-game road swing, sandwiched between Seattle and Los Angeles.

Still, Portland learned a valuable lesson here; that they could be just as tough, just as defensive-minded as the champions. Drexler gave the Trail Blazers the lead with his free throws and clutch shooting. But Portland needed Cliff Robinson's deflection of James Edwards's last-second shot to win the game.

Adelman admitted he told his team, "We've got to be tougher . . . We learned a lot in the first game."

Some feared the Trail Blazers might have been one of those wimpy western teams that would pout about losing Game 1, and forget that the Pistons have been very beatable at times, dating to the New York Knicks series.

"I told them, 'If we can't win them both, then let's get one," Adelman said. "This gives us a lot of life. People don't realize we are a really good road team because of the two games in San Antonio {Portland trailed one by 46 points}."

One way you demonstrate toughness is by taking the ball to the basket. Portland isn't the best jump-shooting team in the world: point guard Terry Porter is the best facing-the-basket shooter on the team. The Trail Blazers got the foul line 41 times Thursday night, which is 18 more times than Detroit did.

Porter made the same number of free throws as all the Pistons, 15. In Game 1, which Portland also could have won, the Trail Blazers missed their last five foul shots of the game. Thursday night, they made 81 percent, including Buck Williams's pair with 9.6 seconds to play and Drexler's with 2.1 seconds.

Several of the Trail Blazers said they didn't agree that they "stole" a game in Detroit.

"Steal," Porter said, "suggests that Detroit dominated the game and we hung around long enough to hit a last-second shot or win by some fluke. We didn't steal it. We controlled more of the game than Detroit did. I'd like to think we earned it. Yeah, earned it."

The impressive thing about Portland's victory is that it wasn't a fluke. If anything, Detroit winning would have been one. Laimbeer? Come on. His last three-pointer came on a busted play. "He was so far out . . . How far was he? I think he was standing in front of me," is how Adelman described it.

"He was so far out, nobody on our team was near him," Porter said.

Regardless, this was a night in which Edwards and Laimbeer each had 26 points, Joe Dumars had 16 and Thomas had 23 plus 11 assists and seven rebounds. And Detroit still couldn't win.

The Trail Blazers learned a lot about themselves and their ability to come through as underdogs; now we'll see what they learn about themselves as the favorite, with home-court advantage.