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Published: Saturday, 5/15/2004

Pistons still not able to beat Nets in playoffs

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Detroit Pistons face a harsh reality this morning.

One year after the fact, the Pistons still can t beat the New Jersey Nets in the playoffs.

Not with Rasheed Wallace playing power forward. Not with Larry Brown coaching. Not even with home-court advantage in this year s Eastern Conference semifinals.

It s all over but the crying for the Pistons, who performed heroically but were spanked 127-120 by New Jersey in only the fourth triple-overtime game in NBA playoff history last night at the Palace.

New Jersey has been there, done that, against the Pistons.

Game 5 was hauntingly similar to New Jersey s 4-0 sweep in last year s conference finals. The Nets merely picked up where they left off after losing the first two games of this year s series.

Once again, the Pistons are being outplayed by New Jersey.

Brown, meanwhile, is being outcoached by his rookie counterpart, Lawrence Frank, who has made nearly every big adjustment in this series.

The Pistons, who trail 3-2, are running out of games, running out of options, running out of time.

“We ve got to win a game on the road. It s been done before,” Brown said of Game 6 tomorrow at Continental Airlines Arena. “We re going to bounce back from this.”

So far, the Pistons are bouncing off the walls in frustration.

Detroit s Grand Experiment isn t working.

Changing coaches, changing players and changing philosophies hasn t transformed the Pistons into the beast of the East.

New Jersey still has Piston-killers Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson, who combined for 69 points, 26 rebounds and 14 assists last night.

Chalk one up for New Jersey.

The Pistons were supposedly the deeper team in this series. Well, not last night.

New Jersey super sub Brian Scalabrine shot 6-of-7 from the field and scored a career playoff-high 17 points in 23 minutes.

Scalabrine, who along with Lucious Harris hit nearly every big shot during crunch time, helped New Jersey s reserves outscore the Pistons bench 34-26.

Chalk up another one for the Nets.

Detroit responded to last night s must-win challenge with an emotion-laden performance.

No more excuses. No more whining about the refs being out to get the Pistons.

No more crying over Wallace s foot injury that limited his playing time against New Jersey prior to last night, or Chauncey Billups bad back.

Injury excuses won t cut it in the playoffs. Everybody s banged-up this time of year.

Billups sent the game into overtime at 88-88 when he banked a buzzer-beater from just inside midcourt.

“Unbelievable,” said Billups, who barely missed a triple-double with 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Billups played 55 minutes, as did Tayshaun Prince. Rasheed Wallace, in his guttiest performance since joining the Pistons, collected 18 points and 10 rebounds in 48 minutes. Ben Wallace also logged 48 minutes.

“I m proud. So many guys stepped up and made big plays,” Brown said.

New Jersey just made more of them. Again.



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