AUBURN HILLS, Mich., May 31 (Ticker) -- Facing an embarrassing
elimination, the Detroit Pistons found a familiar formula to
remain very much alive in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Pistons again were rescued by Tayshaun Prince and their
defense in a convincing 91-78 victory over the Miami Heat, who
are still one win away from the NBA Finals.
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Prince scored a playoff career-high 29 points for the top-seeded
Pistons, who closed the series deficit to 3-2 with a
performance that somewhat silenced the cynics who said their run
Detroit improved to an astounding 11-2 in elimination games over
the last four years, including 3-0 this season. With six
losses in their last nine games and their resolve being
questioned, the Pistons showed the grit and determination that
made them NBA champions in 2004 and got them within five minute
of another title last year.
"We came into this game to win it," Pistons point guard
Chauncey Billups said. "We put everything we had into one game. We've
got to do the exact same thing, put everything we've got into
"It's like playing Game 7 every game, you know what I'm
saying? Because if you don't win, you go home. We came out,
did what we had to do, put the pressure back on them to try to
win at home. If not, it's going to be trouble coming back into
In their only other win in this series - a 92-88 victory in Game
2 - Prince scored 24 points and the Pistons shut down the
Heat until allowing a late flurry. Game 5 looked like a
carbon copy as Prince made 11-of-17 shots and the defense
re-emerged, especially down the stretch.
"I've got responsibility if I'm having a good night," said
Prince, who added seven rebounds. "I've got to continue to try
to carry them. There's situations where Chauncey carries us,
Rip (Hamilton) carries us. I was just in a good rhythm tonight.
When you are in a good rhythm, you try to help your team as
much as possible."
The second-seeded Heat scored just 13 points in the final period
but nevertheless closed to 79-76 with 4:56 left on a short
banker by Dwyane Wade, who scored 23 points. At the other end,
Shaquille O'Neal emphatically blocked a shot - right to Prince,
whose 3-pointer from the left wing beat the shot clock and
doubled the lead.
"I think the biggest play was 79-76, when Shaq got the block and
Tayshaun hit the three," Miami coach Pat Riley said. "That was
a great play for them."
O'Neal answered with a hook with 3:30 remaining, but the Heat
never scored again as the Pistons clamped down and made 9-of-10
free throws in the final three-plus minutes.
Billups had 17 points and 10 assists and Richard Hamilton added
16 and a playoff career-high 10 rebounds for the Pistons, who
made 23-of-26 free throws. Antonio McDyess also was key with 12
points on 5-of-5 shooting off the bench.
"They just beat us to all the loose balls and they just played
with a lot more energy," O'Neal said. "They play excellent when
their backs are against the wall. Now we've just got to go home
on Friday and take care of business."
O'Neal scored 19 points for the Heat, who will have to play
better than this in Game 6 if they want to make their first
trip to the NBA Finals. Miami made just 6-of-20 free throws and
committed 16 turnovers.
"There's no pressure on us at all," Wade said. "We've got a
golden opportunity to win Game 6 on our home floor. It's
another game. These are the conference champions, so there's no
pressure on us."
Although they could never really shake the Heat until the
stretch, the Pistons began with the necessary emotion, which
they have been missing at times in the postseason.
"It was easy for us to come out with energy tonight," center
Ben Wallace said. "You either find a way to get a win or you go
Late in the first period, Prince was fouled as he dunked over
Alonzo Mourning and bumped into him while hanging on the rim.
Mourning gave him a shove and quickly was confronted by both Ben
and Rasheed Wallace.
Prince scored nine points in the first quarter, then added a
tip-in in an 8-0 burst that gave Detroit a 35-24 advantage.
"He carried us a lot," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said.
"There's no question, if you can have a player that can lead
your team and carry it over stretches - and he did for 48
minutes - it makes it easier for the other players. They can
play off it."
O'Neal returned to trigger a 16-6 surge capped by Wade's
fast-break dunk that gave Miami a 40-39 edge with 2:17 before
Early in the second half, Wallace - the Defensive Player of the
Year - leaped and smothered a dunk attempt by the 7-1, 330-pound
O'Neal, who fell to the floor and lost the ensuing jump ball.
"It's a tough task to go down there and try to fight with Shaq
for 48 minutes," Wallace said. "I don't know if that (block)
was skill or determination or that we all get lucky sometimes."
Prince scored another nine in the third period, including a pair
of buckets in a 9-2 run that gave the Pistons the lead for good
at 60-53. His 3-pointer at the 1:42 mark - Detroit's first of
the game - extended the margin to 69-61.
A free throw by O'Neal cut the deficit to 77-74 with 7:44 to
play, but the Heat was just 1-of-6 from the line in the final