Pistons 72, Pacers 67
It was an incredible stamp of validation to a guarantee.
With Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller free on a breakaway and looking at nothing but an open rim and the chance to tie a game Detroit could not secure in the waning seconds, Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince swooped in from behind Miller and swatted a dead-on layup into playoff history. His block denied Indiana's comeback bid and allowed Detroit to follow through on Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace's public promise of a victory, 72-67, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night at Conseco Field House.
Detroit's ugly win in an ugly game evened the series 1-1 and ended Indiana's 14-game home winning streak. Games 3 and 4 will be played at Detroit, beginning Wednesday.
"I was six or seven steps back," Prince said. "I just tried to get back there as fast as I could. It was a matter of whether I was going to get there in time or get there a step late and I got there at the perfect time. He slowed up just a little bit at the last second to try and lay that up and that gave me time to get there."
Said Miller: "We got the steal and I went up and I thought I got the ball on the glass but I guess he made a good block on it.
"I saw him in my rear view mirror. In hindsight, I probably should have dunked it."
Prince's dynamic defensive play put the exclamation point on a stellar defensive game by the Pistons, who blocked 19 shots, limited Indiana to 28 percent shooting and 24 second-half points. The teams' 59 combined second-half points are an NBA playoff record low. However, as bad as the Pacers played, karma seemed to break in Indiana's favor, just as it did in Game 1 when Miller hit the game-winning, three-pointer in the final seconds.
Guard Chauncey Billups turned over the ball and Miller hit two free throws to bring the Pacers to 69-67 with 46 seconds remaining. On Detroit's next possession, Wallace missed a short jumper, Billups rebounded it but lost control of the ball, allowing Indiana's Jamaal Tinsley to pick up the ball and feed Miller (21 points, six rebounds), who was streaking down the floor.
"I said Reggie better dunk that or Tay's going to get it," Pistons guard Richard Hamilton said.
After blocking the shot, Prince tumbled into the crowd, which was irate that officials did not call goaltending on the play. However, the block was clean and the Pacers were forced to foul Hamilton (game-high 23 points, eight rebounds), who knocked down two free throws with 15 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
"Most guys wouldn't have even run down there and he ran down and almost killed himself trying to block the shot," Pacers all-star forward Jermaine O'Neal said.
Said Pistons Coach Larry Brown: "Tayshaun's play really bailed us out. We got real sloppy at the end."
As for Wallace, he made just 4 of 19 shots and had 10 points, but he grabbed eight rebounds, blocked five shots and played stout defense on O'Neal, who did not score in the second half after pumping in 16 points in the first half. There was no gloating from Wallace or any guarantee for future victories.
"It's a case of the Pistons getting a win, that's what we came in here to do," Wallace said. "I guarantee, for games 3 and 4, we'll go back to Detroit."
O'Neal gave Wallace some praise for stopping him in the second half, but blamed himself for not delivering when his team needed him.
"I'm getting shots that I want, I can get whatever shot I want against anybody," O'Neal said. "I'm not concerned with this being a trend in this series. It's 1-1, we're the best road team in the league. We don't feel that concerned about going into [Detroit] and feeling like we can't get a win."
Detroit, which shot just 35 percent, got help from reserves Corliss Williamson (nine points) and Mehmet Okur (nine points). Their play allowed the Pistons to sustain a first half in which center Ben Wallace (five points, four blocks, eight rebounds) played just five minutes because of foul trouble.
For Indiana to regroup, it will have to be more selective with its shots and move the ball, Miller said. The Pacers had just eight assists. Swingman Ron Artest struggled mightily, making just 5 of 21 shots, and forcing several bad shots, often with Prince guarding him.
"Our shot making was stagnant, yet, we hung in there and gave ourselves a chance. We're in a tough spot now going into Detroit," Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle said. "We have not shot the ball well."