NBA.com: Pistons Eke Out Win, Go Up 3-2
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Pistons Eke Out Win, Go Up 3-2

Chucky Atkins' last-second shot gave the Pistons a Game 5 victory.
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich, May 14 (Ticker) -- Chucky Atkins snuck the Detroit Pistons past the Philadelphia 76ers once again.

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Atkins flipped in a running layup in the final second to give the Pistons a 78-77 victory over the 76ers and a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Detroit won its sixth straight postseason home game, including the last two from Philadelphia with last-second heroics. It can reach the conference finals for the first time in 13 years with a win on Friday at Philadelphia.

But the top-seeded Pistons would be staring at elimination if not for Atkins, who rescued them with a great shot that foiled a gritty comeback by the fourth-seeded 76ers.

"Basically, a miracle happened," Pistons rookie swingman Tayshaun Prince said.

Detroit never trailed until the waning moments, when Philadelphia's Eric Snow drained a three-pointer for a 77-76 lead with 9.4 seconds to play.

The Pistons called their final timeout and drew up a play that was disrupted when the Sixers used an extra foul they had on Atkins with 3.7 seconds remaining. Both teams looked disorganized before the ensuing inbounds pass.

"We knew they had a foul to give, so we expected that it was going to come off a reload," Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. "I wanted to change who inbounded the ball and have Rip (Richard Hamilton) do it, but we still knew that they make inbounds passes tougher than any team in the league."

Hamilton passed to a cutting Atkins, who had gotten a step on Aaron McKie. He dribbled to the right baseline and lofted a shot that caught the rim, hit the backboard and was about to drop through when it was goaltended by Derrick Coleman with 0.9 seconds left.

"Atkins took the ball like a receiver on a pass pattern and made a great play," Carlisle said.

"Just please go in, that's all I was saying," Atkins said. "The guys kind of tease me all the time because they say every time I go in and throw a runner, it gets blocked. And I told them all the time in practice that it was going to win a game for us one time this year. I didn't know it was going to be a playoff game."

With no timeouts, the Sixers were reduced to a 60-footer by Allen Iverson that was not close. For the second time in as many games at The Palace of Auburn Hills, they saw a win slip away in the final seconds.

"I really don't think you can put it into words. I think everyone is just numb now," Sixers forward Keith Van Horn said. "Especially with the way we fought back, that's just the best way to put it -- I'm just numb."

In Detroit's Game 2 victory, Prince made the tying basket in the final seconds, then scored seven points in overtime. Prince had a similar basket in this game, giving the Pistons a 76-74 lead with 16 seconds to go.

Atkins scored 17 points as he continued to excel in place of the injured Chauncey Billups, who again sat out with a sprained left ankle.

"I can't be happier for Chucky right now with him being able to step in and play at this level on a stage like this," said Billups, who replaced Atkins as a starter after signing as a free agent. "It's unbelievable. I'm very happy for him."

"It's been a different year for me," Atkins said. "I haven't played as much as I wanted to play this year. I do it in the regular season, but now, unfortunately with the injury to Chauncey, I'm going to get more than my share of minutes and I'm just trying to show the people in the city, our fans and other people around the league that I deserve to be on a 50-win team and that I can play basketball."

Hamilton scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half for the Pistons, who relied on their league-leading defense. They held the Sixers to less than 37 percent (29-of-79) shooting and blocked 11 shots -- four by rookie Mehmet Okur and three each by Prince and Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace.

Philadelphia's prime culprits were Iverson and Van Horn, its top scorers during the regular season. Iverson, who had a solid all-around game with 14 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, made just 5-of-25 shots. Van Horn again encountered foul trouble and made just 2-of-10 shots.

"This game is one of my worst games in the playoffs," Iverson said. "I struggled shooting. I felt that my effort was there and I gave all the energy I had, I just didn't make shots tonight. I missed a lot of shots that I'm accustomed to making."

Coleman had 23 points and 11 rebounds and Snow scored 16 points for the Sixers, who hung around with a 51-37 rebounding advantage.

"I don't even know how we stayed in the game with the way Keith and Allen shot," Sixers coach Larry Brown said. "We kept defending and Derrick was phenomenal. A lot of guys stepped up to give us a chance to win. This one is really going to sting."

The Sixers trailed, 69-60, after a layup by Detroit's Jon Barry with 7:42 remaining. Iverson made a three-pointer and, after a dunk by Okur, Van Horn threw in a hook and Coleman drained a three-pointer to make it 71-68 with 4:36 left.

Okur responded with a three-pointer, but two free throws each by Coleman and Snow cut the deficit to 74-72 with 1:22 to go. Wallace broke up a pass by a driving Iverson but on the next possession could not jump out fast enough to stop his running bank shot that tied it with 34 seconds to play.

After a timeout moved Detroit to the frontcourt, Prince took steps before making the inbounds pass, a violation that was not called. He ended up with the ball and backed down Aaron McKie for a nifty spinning shot that reclaimed the lead for the Pistons.

"They walked on the sidelines with 16 seconds left, so it should have never even gotten that far," Brown said. "You can't walk when you inbound on the side."

Snow had made just seven three-pointers during the season and was 0-of-9 from the arc in the playoffs before his clutch shot.

"They leave me a lot, especially when Allen and the guys make plays to the basket, and Allen passed a backdoor cut to DC and I just try to go to the open space," Snow said. "I don't pretty much look to shoot three-pointers, but I just happened to be open and just be out there."

"That wasn't the play -- to be honest, we were looking to get to the line," Brown said. "But Allen penetrated and pitched and Eric made a huge shot."

Prince scored 13 points and Wallace pulled down 17 rebounds for the Pistons. McKie scored 10 points and Van Horn grabbed nine boards for the Sixers.

With Hamilton and Atkins making shots and Iverson and Van Horn missing, Detroit took control early. The Pistons made five three-pointers in the first quarter, racing to a 20-6 lead before settling for a 30-23 advantage.

I kind of put us in a bind early in the game," said Iverson, who missed 11 of his first 12 shots. "I rushed it more than I usually do and just moving so fast out there, being so anxious."

An ugly second quarter ended with Hamilton's 22-footer that provided a 45-36 bulge. Detroit rebuilt its lead to 12 points in the third quarter before taking a 63-57 advantage to the final period.

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