Detroit 87, Cleveland 71

CLEVELAND, Dec. 21 (AP) -- For three quarters, Chauncey Billups was missing.

Mr. Big Shot arrived in the fourth.

Billups made his first three jumpers of the final period, leading the Detroit Pistons to an 87-71 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night in the first matchup between the clubs since last season's playoffs.

Billups, who was just 1-of-9 from the floor after three quarters, dropped three jumpers - two of them 3-pointers - in the first 3:02 of the fourth as the Pistons went on a 14-3 run to open a 71-58 lead with 8:19 left.

``That's Big Shot Billups at his best,'' LeBron James said. "Fourth quarter, time to take over.''

Billups scored 17 points, including 12 in the fourth, and added 10 assists, including four of those the last 12 minutes against a Cavaliers team that was defenseless to stop him.

``They saw me missing shots early and let their guard down a little,'' he said. "That's when I attacked. That's how I play.''

Tayshaun Prince had 16 points and Antonio McDyess added a season-high 11 points - all i the fourth - and 11 rebounds for the Pistons, who overwhelmed the Cavs in the final period, outscoring them 30-16 and holding them to 3-of-16 shooting.

James had 26 points and Zydrunas Ilgauskas 16 for the Cavaliers, who dropped to 11-3 at home.

In last season's second round, Cleveland won three straight over Detroit and had a chance to close out the Pistons in Game 6 but couldn't come up with an offensive rebound in the closing seconds. The Cavs then lost Game 7 in Auburn Hills, Mich., when the Pistons dominated the second half in a 79-61 win.

This one followed a similar script as the Pistons made the big shots, tightened their defense down the stretch and showed the Cavs why they're still one of the NBA's most feared teams.

"They're still a powerhouse,'' James said. "They're still No. 1 in the Eastern Conference.''

After Billups' second 3 put the Pistons up 69-58 with 8:58 remaining, he whipped a behind-the-back bounce pass to Jason Maxiell, whose baseline jumper put Detroit ahead by 13, forced a timeout by Cleveland and sent Detroit's bench bounding onto the floor for high-fives and chest bumps.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers couldn't do anything against Detroit's defense, which locked down on James (he went 1-for-6 in the fourth), forcing Cleveland's other players to step up. None of them could.

"We changed our looks and dictated the tempo of the game,'' Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "It was played how we wanted.''

Leading 57-55 after three quarters, the Pistons made seven of their first eight shots to open the fourth, a flurry that left the Cavaliers dazed and stunned a sellout crowd of 20,562 fans.

"We got our behinds kicked,'' Cavs coach Mike Brown said. ``We competed in the first half. In the fourth quarter, when the game got tight Detroit turned it up a notch. We gave into their pressure.''

Neither team could get anything going on offense in a third quarter of quintessential Eastern Conference ball. The Pistons outscored the Cavs 15-14 to take their two-point lead entering the final 12 minutes.

The lone highlight for Cleveland came on an alley-oop dunk by a trailing James, who one-handed a pass from Eric Snow and rocketed it through the rim.

James had a little extra bounce in his step from the outset. He scored 12 points - eight straight in the final 2:24 - and went 6-of-7 from the floor in the first quarter as the Cavaliers took a 24-22 lead.

It was a far cry from his postseason exit in May when the Pistons shut him down in the second half of Game 7, holding him to two points on 1-of-9 shooting.

Detroit did a better job defensively on James in the second, limiting him to just two shots while holding Cleveland to 17 points and taking a 42-41 halftime lead.

Notes: James is wearing a sleeve on his right arm because of a soreness in his elbow. He's also sporting a small support band on his left knee. "I'm a little banged up,'' he said. "It's a little tender.'' ... Kid Rock sat courtside next to Detroit's bench. ... Pistons G Lindsey Hunter missed his seventh straight game with a sore right Achilles'. ... Cavs G Damon Jones left in the fourth quarter with back spasms. ... Browns WR Braylon Edwards, a Detroit native, chatted with some of the Pistons near the scorer's table in the final minutes.

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