Nets 127, Pistons 120

A grueling game that took four hours to play and three overtimes to decide could not slow down Richard Jefferson.

Jefferson scored 18 of his 31 points after regulation Friday night to lead the New Jersey Nets to a 127-120 victory over Detroit and a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Detroit's Chauncey Billups, who scored 31 points, forced the first overtime when he stepped just over half court and hoisted a shot that went off the backboard and in at the buzzer.

Reserve forward Brian Scalabrine had a career-high 17 points and went 4 for 4 from three-point range for the Nets, including one that gave New Jersey a 122-118 lead with about 40 seconds left in the third overtime.

"I'm not surprised, basketball players always believe in themselves," Scalabrine said. "It was just great to be a part of an unbelievable game like this. Every time we went to another OT, and it seemed like there were six of them, I thought 'Great! I get to play five more minutes.' "

It was the fourth playoff game to go three or more overtimes, and the first since Phoenix beat Chicago, 129-121, in Game 3 of the 1993 NBA Finals.

Game 6 is Sunday in New Jersey, and if necessary, Game 7 will be Thursday back in suburban Detroit.

History is on the Nets' side.

Out of 115 best-of-seven series that have been tied at two games, the winner of Game 5 has advanced 96 times (83 percent).

If the two-time defending Eastern Conference champion Nets win one of the next two games, they will join just seven other teams to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 0-2.

"This only counts as one win, but it was a special one," Nets Coach Lawrence Frank said. "Our team won this game with will and heart."

The game was close, unlike the first four.

The Pistons won Games 1 and 2 by a combined 37 points, and New Jersey won the next two by a total of 33. For just the third time in a best-of-seven series, the first four games were decided by 15 points or more.

With four players on each team having fouled out, Scalabrine, a relative unknown, came through for the Nets.

Scalabrine scored a total of six points in the first four games of the series, and no more than 16 in a game in his three NBA seasons.

After Jefferson's three-point play gave New Jersey a six-point lead in the third overtime, the Pistons pulled within one with 1 minute 6 seconds left.

Then Scalabrine made his fourth three-pointer to give New Jersey the 122-118 lead.

Billups missed a three-pointer that would have tied the game -- again -- with 11 seconds left.

Kenyon Martin, who fouled out, had 22 points and nine rebounds. Jason Kidd had 16 points and eight assists and played 57 of 63 minutes. Kerry Kittles scored 20 points, and reserve Lucious Harris added 12.

Billups was the only Pistons starter who didn't foul out.

"There were so many overtimes, I don't know which overtime was which," Billups said.

Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince each scored 18 points, while Ben Wallace had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Richard Hamilton had his first playoff double-double with 11 points and 11 assists.

"I'm not drained. I'm proud just to be a part of a game like that," Pistons Coach Larry Brown said. "I'm disappointed that we lost.

"We got to win a game on the road. It's been done before."

New Jersey was 42 of 55 from the free throw line, while Detroit was 30 of 42.

Kidd put the Nets ahead 85-84 -- for the first time in almost six minutes -- with 1:09 left on a coast-to-coast drive after corralling a loose ball in front of Detroit's bench.

After the Pistons missed their ninth and 10th straight shots, Kidd's two free throws gave the Nets an 87-84 lead with 16 seconds left. Billups forced the first overtime with his banked 45-footer.

"Every time we went to another OT . . . I thought 'Great! I get to play five more minutes,' " said Brian Scalabrine, who finished with 17 points.