`Bad Boy' Pistons edge past Pacers


Thu, Jun 03, 2004 - Page 20

A newer version of the Bad Boys is going to the NBA Finals after a clinching victory Tuesday night in which the operative word was "Bad."

In one of the lowest-scoring games in NBA playoff history, Richard Hamilton hit the clutch shot of the night shortly after being flagrantly fouled by Ron Artest, and the Detroit Pistons defeated the Indiana Pacers 69-65 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

A thing of beauty it wasn't, even to Pistons fans who booed in the first half but were on their feet by the end of the game.

And it certainly couldn't have thrown anything resembling a scare into the Los Angeles Lakers, who will be the host for Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night.

This will be the Pistons' first trip to the finals since 1990 when the team nicknamed "Bad Boys" for their physical style of play won their second consecutive title.

It's 14 years later, and the Pistons will enter the championship round with a team that plays superb defense put struggles to put points on the board.

The teams combined for just 60 first-half points, breaking the NBA playoff record of 62 set by the Pistons and New Jersey Nets during the second round, and finished with a combined total of 134 -- just four more than the record-low.

The Pistons won despite shooting a shade under 33 percent.

Hamilton scored 21 points, Ben Wallace had 12 points and 16 rebounds, Rasheed Wallace had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Chauncey Billups added 10 points.

When the final buzzer sounded, Ben Wallace twirled his way to center court and joined a spirited celebration that included Rasheed Wallace and Hamilton jumping atop the scorer's table and saluting the fans.

A chant of "Beat LA" rang out as the Pistons were presented with the Eastern Conference championship trophy.

The Lakers were installed as a 7-point favorite for Game 1.

Detroit became the first team to overcome a deficit against the Pacers after trailing entering the fourth quarter. Indiana had been 9-0 this postseason in such situations.

Jermaine O'Neal scored 20 points to lead the Pacers, who were held to 10 points in the second quarter, 17 in the third and 15 in the fourth.

Billups hit a 3-pointer 3 minutes into the fourth quarter to make it 54-54, the first tie since the score was 2-2. It was Billups' first field goal after starting 0-for-8.

With the score 59-59, Artest committed a flagrant foul against Hamilton by striking him in the face with a forearm, apparently in retaliation after Artest was hit below the belt.

"It certainly had an impact," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.

Hamilton made both foul shots to give Detroit its first lead, and Rasheed Wallace followed with a dunk off a missed shot to make it 63-59. Hamilton, still upset over Artest's foul, got called for a technical foul moments later but Reggie Miller missed the free throw.

"I think he hit me with a cheap shot. It's all a part of the game. My teammates just told me to keep my mental part of the game. Don't let him get into my head," Hamilton said.

After Anthony Johnson missed a fast-break layup, Hamilton came off a screen, caught a pass and dribbled to his left. From about 14 feet away on the left baseline, he hit a running jumper for a 65-61 lead.

Artest then tried to dunk over Ben Wallace but missed, and Tayshaun Price made a long 2-pointer for a six-point lead.

O'Neal's basket with 2:42 left was Indiana's last field goal until 40 seconds remained.

This series had been marked by great defense by both teams, but that didn't apply in the wretched first half. Instead, both teams missed all sorts of easy shots, including layups and wide-open midrange jumpers.

Typical was a sequence early in the second quarter as the Pistons missed three layups and tips before Hamilton finally knocked down his first shot of the game, cutting Indiana's lead to 25-14.

The Pistons were 5-for-31 from the field at one point, drawing boos from the home fans. The Pacers were barely better, going more than 6 minutes in the quarter without a field goal.

The teams had combined for only 51 points before Artest, Rasheed Wallace and Austin Croshere each hit 3-pointers in the final 35 seconds of the half. Indiana continued to hold the lead throughout a third quarter that ended with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Johnson for a 50-46 lead.