PHELAN M. EBENHACK / AP Enlarge
ORLANDO, Fla. - There is a reason the Detroit Pistons have been to five consecutive Eastern Conference finals. They proved it yesterday, even without their All-Star point guard to hold things together in front of a hostile crowd.
Richard Hamilton scored 32 points and Hedo Turkoglu missed a layup with time running out as the Pistons beat the Orlando Magic 90-89 to take a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Pistons became the first team to win on the road in the second round this postseason, and can clinch their sixth consecutive conference finals appearance when this series returns Tuesday to Detroit.
All of it happened with Chauncey Billups watching in a sport coat on the bench after straining a hamstring in Game 3.
"We just played 'D' - that's what we do," said Rasheed Wallace, who had 16 points and eight rebounds. "It was a physical game on both sides of the ball. That is our style; we like being physical. We just wish we could do that more often."
Tayshaun Prince scored 17 for Detroit, including an 11-foot runner for the go-ahead basket with 8.9 seconds left. Antonio McDyess added eight points and 14 boards.
The Pistons controlled the tempo in the second half after falling behind by 15 in the third quarter, deflated the Magic transition game that gassed up its Game 3 win and pounded Dwight Howard in the paint.
Still, Orlando had a chance late in the game - actually a few of them. Down by a point out of the timeout after Prince's basket, Turkoglu held the ball at the top of the key as time wound down, then missed a contested layup in the lane. Howard's follow also was no good, and neither player drew the foul they wanted.
Jameer Nelson also missed one of two foul shots with 44 seconds left, which would've tied the game.
"From a coaching standpoint, we've had three end-of-the-game possessions in this series. And we haven't gotten a very good shot on any possession," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "So you've got to lay that on me."
Turkoglu made two 3-pointers and a three-point play in a minute-and-a-half span that put Orlando ahead 86-84 with 2:33 left.
"I was reading the situation," Turkoglu said of the final sequence. "I didn't want to rush and force a bad shot. Maybe I was holding it too long instead of going right away. I'm just upset that I couldn't help the team."
Turkoglu scored 20 and three players added 15 points - Rashard Lewis, Maurice Evans and Nelson.
The Pistons held Howard in check all game, forcing several turnovers on Magic passes inside and largely preventing the All-Star from getting the ball near the rim. They double-teamed and banged him around but didn't commit many fouls on the 59 percent free throw shooter.
"I missed a lot of shots, just had a little frustrated night," Howard said. "Nothing I can do about it - just come back next game and get a little better."
Howard had only two fouls shots, making both. He finished with eight points and 12 rebounds
"Every time he got it our guys were very active when he put it on the floor," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "We tried not to give him anything easy."
Detroit climbed out of a 55-44 halftime deficit with a 15-0 run over nearly seven minutes in the third quarter to tie it at 63. McDyess and Hamilton each scored four in the run and Lindsey Hunter, activated because of Billups' injury, hit a 3-pointer. The Magic missed eight straight shots and committed two turnovers in the span.
Pistons rookie Rodney Stuckey made his first playoff start in place of Billups, but Hunter took over the ballhandling duties much of the time with Stuckey in foul trouble. Hunter rarely appeared in the regular season, playing a career-low 24 games and spending 46 on the inactive list in his 15th pro year. He looked rusty early but finished with eight points and three
Billups is third on Detroit's career playoff scoring list and was averaging 15.8 points and 5.7 assists this postseason. In the end, the Pistons didn't need him.
NOTES: Orlando is winless in the playoffs (0-4) when it fails to score at least 100 points. ... Detroit is 3-2 on the road in the postseason.28.49349 -81.34977