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Friday, May 16
 
Injured Billups delivers in OT for Pistons

By Jerry Bembry
ESPN the Magazine

PHILADELPHIA -- His play in the first quarter was so shaky that Pistons coach Rick Carlisle would only play him one more minute the rest of the half. But despite the fact his injured ankle was only 85 percent, he couldn't explode to the basket and his shot was off, Chauncey Billups at the start of overtime on Friday did what special players normally do.

He asked for the ball.

Here's all you need to know about why the Pistons advanced to the Eastern Conference finals against the Nets, and the Sixers' season came to an end. After his teammates carried the load for the entire game, Billups wanted the big shots.

Allen Iverson hit big shots for the Sixers, but a few key players appeared unwilling to offer any kind of assistance.

The result? A 93-89 win by Detroit, allowing the Pistons to advance to the conference finals that begin Sunday at The Palace against New Jersey.

Billups scored 28 points for the Pistons, nine in overtime when he hit three 3-pointers. Despite the fact that he favored the injured left ankle slightly, Billups was aggressive enough to get to the free-throw line 11 times (he hit all 11) and also had seven rebounds and five assists.

"At the start of overtime I told (his teammates) I was going to take this game over," Billups. "I was very aggressive, trying to look for my shot."

While Billups looked for his shots in such a big game, a couple of Sixers ran from shots. While Keith Van Horn grabbed 10 rebounds, he took just four shots in 45 minutes (hitting just one). Aaron McKie came off the bench and played 29 minutes, but he just took four shots.

Neither did much to help Iverson, who scored 38 points but appeared to run out of gas as he hit just three of 14 shots after halftime.

For a team with a reputation of being without a true go-to player, the Pistons have shown during the first two rounds of the playoffs that they have multiple guys capable of stepping into the spotlight.

In Game 1, Mehmet Okur hit all seven of his shots from the field. In Game 2, it was Tayshaun Prince hitting the basket to send the game into overtime. In Game 5, Chucky Atkins -- filling in for the injured Billups -- hit the game-winning shot.

But when it came down to crunch time, Billups, who sprained his left ankle in Game 1, insisted that the responsibility come down on his shoulders. Billups hit two 3-pointers in the first three minutes of overtime. Later, with the game tied at 89, it was Billups again who made the 3-pointer that broke an 89-89 tie.

The Pistons had a lot of heroes on Friday: Ben Wallace had 10 points and 18 rebounds, seemingly playing with an increased passion that was lacking in two games in Philadelphia last week.

Rip Hamilton had 19 points, and he also did a solid job defensively on Iverson.

Corliss Williamson had 17 points before fouling out.

And Prince stepped up yet again, scoring 14 points on offense, and doing a great defensive job on Iverson after Hamilton got into foul trouble late in the game. It was Prince's defense at the end of regulation that helped Iverson -- who didn't get to the arena until a half hour before the game -- pass up a potentially game-winning shot at the end of regulation.

"Everybody on the roster has been instrumental in us getting to this point," Carlisle said.

But no one was more valuable on Friday night than Billups, who was listed as doubtful until making the start. Billups said he almost came back from his injury to play in Game 5, but decided to wait because Atkins was playing so well. "I didn't want to be selfish," Billups said.

But he did become selfish during overtime, perfect timing for a Pistons team that won in overtime for the 10th time this season (with no losses).

"I've proved that, time and time again this year, late in game situations I've been the guy to go to," Billups said. "With Tayshaun's development and the ability of Corliss, we have a lot of options at the end of games. But more times than not, the ball's going to come to me.

"I'm not afraid to fail," Billups added. "But I'm not afraid to be a hero, either."

Jerry Bembry is general editor (NBA) for ESPN The Magazine. You can reach him via e-mail at Jerry.Bembry@ESPN3.com.

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