Pistons 106, Heat 96

-- True to form, the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons were dominant when it mattered most.

Richard Hamilton scored 28 points and Rasheed Wallace had 20 to lead the Pistons past the Miami Heat, 106-96, Tuesday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Detroit was consistently aggressive on defense and unselfish on offense because it didn't want to go to Miami down 3-1, a deficit just seven of 159 teams have recovered from in postseason history.

"We knew that it was a must win and our backs were against the wall," said Chauncey Billups, who had 17 points, 7 assists and no turnovers. "Unfortunately, that's when we're at our best."

The Pistons trailed Indiana 2-1 in the conference semifinals, then advanced to play Miami with three straight wins. Detroit went to New Jersey behind 3-2 in the same round last season and responded by winning two in a row. With their four current starters playing key roles, the Pistons made the rare rally from a 3-1 deficit against Orlando in the first round two years ago.

With reports swirling about their coach leaving after the season, the Pistons were focused on the Heat because they provided enough problems with wins in the two previous games.

Many expect Larry Brown to become the president for basketball operations in Cleveland next season, though Brown insists he would like to continue coaching if his health allows it.

"We don't care about that now," Billups said.

Game 5 is Thursday night in Miami and Game 6 will be Saturday night back at the Palace.

"Every game we're in is a must win," said Miami's Dwyane Wade, who scored 28 points on 10-of-22 shooting.

The Pistons took the lead for good after Shaquille O'Neal got into foul trouble midway through the first quarter.

Detroit didn't have a turnover in the first half, never let Wade get into a scoring groove -- thanks in large part to Hamilton's defense -- and was never seriously challenged in the fourth quarter.

O'Neal, limited by foul trouble, had 12 points and five rebounds. Udonis Haslem scored 14 -- two more than he had in the series.

"Our ball movement wasn't great. I think their pressure had a lot to do with it," Miami Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I know you're not supposed to say that -- that the other team had anything to do with it, I noticed that in the series -- but I will say that they did have a lot to do with it."

Detroit handed Miami its first road loss of the playoffs. The Heat had been 5-0 against New Jersey, Washington and the Pistons.

Pistons' Chauncey Billups, left, battles Heat's Dwyane Wade for a loose ball during Detroit's 106-96 win in Game 4 Tuesday that evened the series at 2-2.