AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Some actually wrote off the Detroit Pistons - the defending NBA champions - after only two games of the best-of-seven series against the San Antonio Spurs.
The NBA team with its own championship belts to go along with its championship rings was considered as dead as tumbleweed after dropping the first two games played in San Antonio. NBA pundits and sports-radio talking heads had the Pistons' latest reign as the best team in the NBA coming quickly to a close, thanks to a Spurs team that lost only three times at home all season.
The Pistons made it obvious last night that they hadn't bought into their predicted demise.
Detroit displayed championship mettle in turning back San Antonio 96-79 before a raucous sellout crowd at the Palace.
Five Pistons scored in double figures with Richard Hamilton pouring in a game-high 24 points as Detroit took care of business on its home court the way the Spurs did in the first two games at the SBC Center in San Antonio.
The Spurs lead the series 2-1 heading into tomorrow night's game at the Palace.
"It's only one game, but that game is over," Detroit coach Larry Brown said.
"I think our guys have a great amount of respect for that team."
Ben Wallace came through with 15 points and 11 rebounds to play even with San Antonio's Tim Duncan, who finished with 14 points and 10 caroms.
Chauncey Billups, who was 3-of-7 from 3-point range, pumped in 20 points to help the Pistons' starting backcourt outscore the Spurs', 44-28.
Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess chipped in 12 points apiece.
The Pistons put together a major run during the fourth quarter to take control of the contest. McDyess came off the bench and helped spark the run by scoring 10 points after intermission.
Nevertheless, it was the best all-around showing by Detroit during the series. The Pistons sank shots, making 40 of 85 (47.1 percent). The Spurs made 29 of 67 (43.3 percent).
"I've said before, we defend better when we get good shots," Brown said.
The Pistons found themselves trailing the Spurs by one, 42-41, at the half.
However, a balanced attack early kept Detroit on pace with San Antonio.
Hamilton, Billups, Prince and Rasheed Wallace had eight points apiece while Ben Wallace scored seven before halftime.
Duncan and Tony Parker paced the Spurs early with 10 and nine points, respectively, in the first half. Parker finished with a team-high 21 points while Bruce Bowen and Brent Barry added 13 and 10, respectively. Manu Ginobili was held to seven points on a 2-for-6 shooting effort.
"As a team we didn't have that juice," Ginobili said. "We were not sharp."
The Pistons, who entered the game 1-for-12 on 3-point attempts during the series, continued to struggle with their shooting from behind the arc.
They went 0-for-3 from 3-point range in the first half before Billups finally swished one early in the third quarter. The Pistons were 3-of-14 from 3-point range for the game.
Meanwhile, the Spurs found comfort behind the arc, nailing 5 of 8 3-pointers in the first half. They were 8-of-17 for the contest.
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