The Orlando Magic made sure they won't be swept out of the NBA playoffs by Detroit this time, thanks to 33 points from Rashard Lewis and an injury to Pistons guard Chauncey Billups.
Lewis’ 33 were a playoff career-high and helped the Magic to a 111-86 victory over the Pistons in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference second-round series.
The victory saw Orlando narrow the gap in the best-of-seven series to 2-1 and ended a nine-game losing streak against Detroit in the playoffs.
The last time Orlando had beaten Detroit in the post-season was in 2003, when the Pistons won the last three games of their series to advance. Last season Detroit swept the Magic in four games and they won the first two games of this series at home.
“It’s great to definitely get a win and to know we can beat these guys in the playoffs,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. “We know they’re beatable.”
Dwight Howard added 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Magic, who undoubtedly benefited from the early departure of Billups, who left the game early in the first quarter with a strained right hamstring.
Billups was hurt when he got tangled up with Nelson and his status for tomorrow’s Game 4 was uncertain.
Detroit coach Flip Saunders said the Pistons were “shooting for him to play” in the next game.
“Losing Chauncey was huge for us, he means so much to our team,” Detroit’s Richard Hamilton said. “To not have him out there made a difference. We fought back, but we just couldn’t get the win.”
While driving the right baseline in the first quarter, Billups bumped into Nelson and fell awkwardly to the floor, overextending his hamstring and leaving him face-down under the basket.
He immediately left the game and was taken to the locker room for treatment.
It set the tone for a dismal first quarter for the Pistons, who trailed 30-16 entering the second period.
The Magic had seized a 20-3 lead with just over four minutes left in the first on a mammoth dunk by Howard.
Characteristically, the Pistons made a run after halftime behind Hamilton, who scored 24 points on 10-of-20 shooting.
Two free throws by Hamilton pulled the Pistons within 73-69 with eight-tenths of a second left in the third, but Detroit would get no closer.
Orlando scored the first seven points of the final quarter, capped by a wide-open three-pointer by Keyon Dooling with 10 minutes, 42 seconds to play.
After a timeout by the Pistons, Dooling kept the pressure on with a layup.
The Magic eventually took a 90-73 lead with 8 minutes, 17 seconds to play, Hedo Turkoglu’s three-pointer capping a 17-4 spurt and effectively sealing the outcome.
It was a much-needed victory for the Magic, who suffered a demoralizing defeat in Game 2 after a clock malfunction allowed the Pistons to hit a three-pointer at the end of the third.
The basket ended up being crucial in the close-fought contest and the controversy had the NBA vowing to reconsider its rule disallowing the use of video replay in the case of clock problems.
Rookie Rodney Stuckey played well in Billups’ absence, netting 19 points for the Pistons, who were nevertheless outscored 38-17 in the fourth quarter without their floor leader.
“Obviously, the biggest factors were our start and Chauncey’s injury,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Turkoglu and Nelson scored 18 points apiece for the Magic, who shot a sizzling 54 percent (42-of-78) from the floor.
“We didn’t want to get deeper in a hole and I think the way we were playing, we would have had a good chance whether Chauncey was in the game or not,” Lewis said. “We wanted it more.”
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