Pistons 95, Spurs 86
-- As the stunned, dejected crowd flooded out of SBC Center, the Detroit Pistons gleefully surrounded forward Rasheed Wallace at center court. Center Ben Wallace laughed as he jabbed him in the chest three times. Darvin Ham embraced him and others patted Rasheed Wallace on the chest or wrapped their arms around him.
The same player who was chastised for doing the unforgivable two nights before -- leaving San Antonio Spurs forward Robert Horry open for a game-winning three-pointer -- came back to redeem himself, by scoring seven points in the final 41/2 minutes as the defending champion Pistons evened this NBA Finals series at 3-3 with a 95-86 win Tuesday night.
"We go back to the hotel instead of the airplane," Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups said. "You're in the Finals, it's Game 7, two best teams in the league. Don't get no better than this."
It was the fifth time in the past two postseasons that the Pistons avoided elimination. This time was largely because of Wallace, who scored 16 points -- including a back-breaking rebound putback with 1 minute 25 seconds remaining -- with three blocked shots. Pistons guard Richard Hamilton had a game-high 23 points, while Billups had 21 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
The down-but-never-out Pistons lived to see another day, but to maintain a hold on their title, they will have to win the first Game 7 in the NBA Finals since the Rockets beat the Knicks in 1994.
"We said it after the last game -- they are the best facing elimination and down," said forward Tim Duncan, who led the Spurs with 21 points and 15 rebounds. "We knew we had to put a good game out there to beat them. We didn't do it. It's a disappointing loss but we play all year to have home court to have this opportunity."
Since Duncan joined the Spurs, they have never played a seventh game. No team has ever won the last two games on the road to win the NBA Finals, but the Pistons have responded well to adverse situations. They were able to block out the supposed distractions of the status of Coach Larry Brown, who may not return next season because of health concerns. They have rallied around each other when other teams break apart.
"I think it's just really a collection of all of us and all our struggles that we've been through and all the adverse times that we've had to overcome, all really combined into one," Billups said. "We just always fight and scratch and bite and pull ourselves out of that corner that we always back ourselves in."
To get here, the Pistons needed to come back from a 3-2 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals against the Heat. Then they lost the first two NBA Finals games by an average of 18 points before flipping the script and beating the Spurs in the next two by an average of 24. The Pistons were against the ropes in Game 6, but they won in San Antonio for the first time in more than eight years, the first time ever at SBC Center.
They should've been devastated following an overtime loss in Game 5 at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Sunday, when Rasheed Wallace left Horry open to double-team Manu Ginobili in the corner.
"I just went at it like it was another good game. Even though I made a bonehead play the other night, I had to put it behind me," Rasheed Wallace said, last season's championship belt hanging on his shoulder. "But hey, got a win and we force a Game 7."
Wallace appeared flustered for most of the game, shouting at fans and screaming at officials. He picked up his fifth foul with 11:23 left and was on the bench for the next six minutes. He returned to have an immediate impact. After Ginobili (21 points, 10 rebounds) hit a three-pointer to bring the Spurs within 82-81 with 4:48 left, Wallace buried a 15-foot jumper over Duncan. Wallace later knocked down a three-pointer to give the Pistons an 87-82 lead with 3:33 left. Duncan brought back the Spurs with a two-handed dunk and a layup over Wallace.
After a timeout, Tayshaun Prince (13 points, seven rebounds) drove inside for a scoop shot in the lane to give the Pistons a three-point lead. Then, Ginobili drove inside but Ben Wallace (three blocked shots) soared to reject Ginobili's shot. The ball bounced off Prince's shoe and went off Ginobili. Billups quickly drove to the basket, but his shot bounded off the rim to Rasheed Wallace, who sank a layup to give the Pistons a 91-86 lead. Rasheed Wallace later stepped up and stole the ball from Ginobili -- "I wish I had gotten my hand on it the other night," Wallace said -- and finally, he rebounded Ginobili's wild, off-balanced three-pointer to secure the win.
"We put ourselves in that position so we got no other alternative but show up and compete," Brown said. "I've been with these guys for two years, and they don't disappoint me in terms of their desire to win and their respect for each other. So this was -- maybe that helped us make some three-pointers."
The Pistons matched their total for three-pointers in first five games of this series with eight three-pointers in Game 6. The Pistons were 8 of 17 (47.1 percent) from beyond the three-point line, while the Spurs were 8 for 28 (28.6 percent).
The last two games of this series have provided all of the drama that had been lacking for much of the first four. Game 6 featured 23 lead changes and 11 ties. The teams weren't separated by more than three points for an 18:46 stretch of the second and third quarter.
This had been the stepchild series that never could get its own spotlight, with periphery stories such as labor talks and Phil Jackson's return to the Los Angeles Lakers taking away from the actual games. And with four consecutive blowouts to start and declining ratings for ABC. But even after the Spurs and Pistons provided a great Game 5 -- the league announced a new labor agreement before tip-off Tuesday night. But all of that can be put to rest, because this series has outlasted all of that. Game 7 is Thursday.