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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2002

Pistons post 50 wins

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - A pleasantly surprising regular season for the Detroit Pistons fittingly finished in surprising fashion.

Detroit thoroughly disposed of Milwaukee 123-89 last night before 19,473 at The Palace.

In collecting their 50th win of the season the Pistons pumped in a season-high 64 points in the first half and took a commanding 20-point lead into halftime. While diminishing the Bucks' chances to qualify for the playoffs, the Pistons appeared to be more than ready for the playoffs.

The Pistons, who went from 32-50 last season to a 50-32 record this season, shocked even first-year coach Rick Carlisle with the performance.

“[This] certainly was unexpected,” Carlisle said. “This all certainly means more to the players. Those guys really wanted 50 wins. They talked about it but they didn't say anything to the press.

“They have a lot of pride and they have a lot of belief in their collective abilities.”

Clifford Robinson poured in a game-high 24 points as five Pistons finished in double figures in a game in which Detroit found it difficult to miss in the first half, particularly from behind the 3-point arc. The Pistons swished 8 of 12 3-pointers before halftime to put some distance between themselves and the Bucks going into the second half.

It ultimately led to Detroit setting up a first-round playoff date with Toronto. The two teams will meet on Sunday at The Palace.

“We haven't jumped the gun all year,” Robinson said. “We haven't looked past what's in front of us. We haven't looked to the next game until we finish the game that we are playing.

“We've done a really good job at staying focused at what's in front of us on a game-to-game basis.”

A Milwaukee win would have guaranteed a first-round playoff matchup between the Pistons and the Bucks. Milwaukee, which played in the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago, was considered a preseason favorite to wind up in the NBA Finals this season. However, nagging injuries and lack of team chemistry led to the Bucks' meltdown.

However, an explosive first-half by the Pistons had plenty to do with Milwaukee leaving The Palace in a foul mood. The Pistons outshot one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the league to take a comfortable 20-point edge.

Detroit shot 54 percent in the first half, including a 67 percent effort from 3-point range. Barry was perfect on four shots in the first half, including a 3-for-3 effort from behind the 3-point line, to finish with 11.

The Pistons admit a guarantee before the game by Milwaukee's Sam Cassell that the Bucks would win served as bulletin-board material.

“Our guys took exception to that,” said Carlisle of Cassell's prediction. “I give our guys credit for not being talkers.”

Wallace, finishing with 10 points and a game-high 20 rebounds, found motivation in Cassell's words.

“We were looking for a little motivation and they gave it to us,” Wallace said. “Everybody said that we didn't have anything to play for but we were going to go out there and finish the game.

“We started off strong and we wanted to finish strong.”

Ex-Buckeye Michael Redd paced the Bucks with 21 points.

NOTES: Detroit's 64-point half was its most productive of the season. ... Detroit will have homecourt advantage in a playoff series for the first time since the 1990-91 season. ... The Bucks finished the season 41-41 after being as many as 13 games over .500 (26-13) in January. ... Wallace's 20 rebounds meant that Tim Duncan needed 40 in his final game to win the rebounding title.



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