HOUSTON -- Ben Wallace stole the ball in the backcourt and headed upcourt with a head of steam, passing the ball to Richard Hamilton before he fed it to Chauncey Billups streaking in from the right side.
Billups scored to complete the 3-on-2 fast break, giving the Eastern Conference All-Stars a four-point cushion early in the fourth quarter that they never surrendered.
Yep, even in the All-Star game it was the Detroit Pistons who were the best team on the floor.
Led by 29 points from LeBron James, the East came back from a 21-point deficit and defeated the West 122-120 Sunday in the 2006 All-Star Game. But while James was the MVP and the main offensive star for the winners, the complexion of the game was changed by the defensive intensity exhibited by the four members of the Pistons after they checked into the game late in the third quarter.
Chauncey Billups scored seven of the East's first nine points in the final period, and the East never trailed after Wallace's steal led to Billups' layup two minutes into the fourth quarter.
The West had two chances, but LeBron James got a piece of Tracy McGrady's jumper with 8 seconds left, and Kobe Bryant lost control of the ball in the lane moments later.
He missed it, but it didn't matter. The outcome was already secured.
McGrady led all scorers with 36 points. James became the youngest MVP in the history of the event.
"I think Charles Barkley kick-started us. He said at halftime the game was over," James said.
As is usually the case at this event, the moments featuring some comic relief drew the loudest reactions from the unusually sedate crowd. One of the first came when Shaquille O'Neal had the ball on the perimeter and tried to execute a give-and-go with Dwyane Wade in the low post, Wade's blind over-the-head pass failing to find its 340-pound target.
Vince Carter and O'Neal had a chuckle of their own in the game's opening minutes when Allen Iverson lobbed an alley-oop pass for Carter some 15 feet in the air. The ball sailed out of bounds, with Carter turning to grin at Iverson with an expression that seemed to say "I can jump, but not that high."
Steve Nash had a similar episode moments later when Tracy McGrady couldn't get his fingertips on a too-high alley-oop pass, although Shaq had no problem catching his own alley-oop pass _ an illegal one he threw to himself off the backboard on his second free throw attempt, a move that he capped with a resounding two-handed slam that caught everyone but the referees. They whistled him for a lane violation, and Shaq exited with a grin as East coach Flip Saunders subbed in his four Detroit Pistons All-Stars, playing them together along with Boston's Paul Pierce.
The first quarter ended with the score tied at 28, with none of the Pistons doing anything to distinguish themselves _ except for Rasheed Wallace attempting a 3-pointer left-handed and barely grazing the rim.
Carter converted a nifty alley-oop dunk off a pass from former teammate Toronto teammate Chris Bosh 5 1-2 minute into the second quarter, temporarily injecting some excitement into a surprisingly lifeless game. But the one of the only highlights over the remainder of the half was a missed dunk by Carter that bounced so hard off the back rim that it landed at the opposite 3-point line. The West closed the second quarter with a 23-8 run for a 70-53 halftime lead, McGrady leading all scorers with 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
McGrady scored the first four points of the second half and was up to 26 points by the time he went to the bench with 6:19 left in the quarter, but Wade kept the East within striking distance with a little of everything _ an acrobatic dunk here, and assist or a steal there _ and James got the deficit inside of double-digits by scoring 13 points in the first six minutes of the period. The defensive highlight of the quarter was Ben Wallace's work against first-time All-Star Pau Gasol late in the quarter, blocking two of the Spaniard's shots on one possession to force a true All-Star Game rarity _ a 24-second violation.
The West's lead was down to 97-94 at the end of the third quarter, and a three-point ply by Billups 6 seconds into the final quarter produced the first tie since early in the second quarter. The defensive intensity of the Pistons' All-Stars put the East ahead, and O'Neal added another light-hearted moment midway through the quarter when he dunked with two hands and did a chin-up as he finished, looking through the backboard and mugging for the cameras mounted on the rear side of the glass.
Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past decade, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.