Billups’ Late Burst Lifts Pistons Over Mavs
Detroit 97, Dallas 90
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., March 28 (Ticker) -- Chauncey Billups rediscovered his early aggression and still had plenty left down the stretch.
Billups scored eight of his 31 points in the final three minutes and added 11 assists as the Detroit Pistons rallied for a 97-90 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in a possible NBA Finals preview.
Rasheed Wallace had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Pistons (56-14), who averted consecutive home losses for the first time this season and won for the fifth time in six games.
After Sunday's home loss to New Jersey, Saunders said he wanted more offense early in the game from Billups, an All-Star point guard who did not score in the first three quarters of the game.
En route to his sixth 30-point game of the season, Billups responded with seven points in each of the first three quarters, then flashed the form that made him the MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals, fueling an 11-2 closing run.
"I wanted to be aggressive early because the team gets better when I do that," Billups said. "The Mavericks and Phoenix are two teams that really try to jump on you early, so I wanted to be aggressive to keep them from getting on top of us."
After a jumper by Wallace forged an 88-88 tie, Billups made a technical foul shot following a defensive three-second violation by Dallas, giving Detroit the lead for good with 2:56 to go. On the ensuing possession, Billups used a screen to get free for a 3-pointer and a 92-88 lead.
Dirk Nowitzki made a jumper and the teams traded a pair of empty possessions before Billups sank a jumper over the 7-foot Nowitzki for a 94-90 lead with 45 seconds left. He added a pair of free throws to seal it with 13 seconds remaining.
"Chauncey hit some big shots," Wallace said. "He did a good job. He hit some real big shots when we needed it."
Richard Hamilton scored 14 points for the Pistons, who hurt the Spurs with offensive rebounds and 3-point shooting.
Detroit scored 21 second-chance points, including three straight baskets midway through the final period, and also made it first eight 3-pointers, finishing 9-of-12 from the arc.
Nowitzki and former Piston Jerry Stackhouse scored 25 points apiece for shorthanded Dallas (54-17), which has lost three of its last five games and fell one-half game behind San Antonio in the race for the best record in the Western Conference.
"Obviously, this is a very disappointing loss," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "We felt we had a chance to win this game, but they executed better than we did down the stretch. We battled, we fought, this was a playoff atmosphere. We wish we would have been able to match their intensity down the stretch, but we didn't. They were in the bounce-back mode and they bounced back."
"This was a big game for both teams," Saunders said. "They're fighting San Antonio to try to win their division and we're fighting to make sure we maintain and keep our rhythm."
Although the Mavericks were without injured forward Josh Howard, guard Devin Harris and swingman Adrian Griffin, they maintained control for most of the fourth quarter before unraveling in the final three minutes.
"Our focus is getting our guys back healthy and trying to get whole," Stackhouse said. "They're (Pistons) whole right now; that's who they are. We're missing some pieces. That being said, we feel we should have won the game."
A jumper and 3-pointer by Keith Van Horn, who scored 18 points off the bench, sparked a 7-2 spurt that opened the fourth quarter and gave Dallas a 76-74 lead. The Mavs did not trail again until Billups began his burst, although the game was tied six times.
Stackhouse's jumper gave Dallas a 37-28 lead with 8:07 left in the second quarter before Detroit drained three 3-pointers - two by Wallace and one by Billups - to claim a 52-50 halftime lead.