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Top-seeded Pistons on edge of elimination

4/28/2003

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- One more win, Tracy McGrady reminded the
sellout crowd with a raised finger as he walked off the court
Sunday.

One more win, and the Orlando Magic will have knocked off the
No. 1 seed in the East.

McGrady had 27 points and nine assists as the Magic defeated the
Pistons 100-92 Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round
playoff series. Drew Gooden added 20 points and 13 rebounds while
Darrell Armstrong came off the bench to score 18.

Orlando last advanced past the opening round in 1996 -- when it
swept Detroit -- and has dropped four series since. McGrady has
exited in the first round three straight times, the first with Toronto and then two more after coming home to central Florida.

All those trends can all be undone with a Magic victory in
Detroit on Wednesday -- but not until then.

"Our guys are just keeping their composure, going out here
focused and playing with a great deal of confidence -- and that what
we're going to need to close out this series,'' said McGrady,
averaging 36.3 points against Detroit. "We can't get too comfortable right now. We've still got another game to play.''

Added Armstrong: "One of the hardest things for a team to do is
close out another team, especially on their floor.''

Orlando shot 50 percent against the NBA's best defense, and
Armstrong proved that almost everything the Magic tossed up was
going in. With 6:14 to play and 1 second on the shot clock, he
swished a falling-away heave that put the Magic ahead 95-77 -- their largest lead of the series.

"That's when you thought the stars were aligned our way,''
Orlando coach Doc Rivers said.

The Pistons, losers of 12 straight road playoff games, failed to
top 43 percent shooting for fourth straight game. They shot 42
percent and committed 15 turnovers -- including two passes into the
stands in the fourth quarter.

"I don't know what it is. I don't have an explanation for it,''
said Chauncey Billups, who led Detroit with 25 points despite a
bruised left thigh but missed 11 of 12 shots after a 16-point first
quarter.

Ben Wallace had 12 points, 24 rebounds and seven steals, while
Clifford Robinson had 14 points. Richard Hamilton, who was
averaging 26.7 points, had five while shooting 2-for-11.

"We've got to respond at home and we've got to get another
opportunity to come back here,'' Detroit coach Rick Carlisle said.
"(The Magic) did what they set out to do and defended their home
court, and we're going to have to do that on Wednesday.''

Orlando scored 18 unanswered points late in the third quarter to
seize control. McGrady had seven points and Armstrong six in the
run that put the Magic ahead 77-65 with 1:10 left in the period.

Detroit, meanwhile, had zero offense, settling for jumpers with
the shot clock winding down. The Pistons missed nine straight shots
in the quarter's final 5:36.

Orlando got help from the officials for the first time in the
series. After three games in which the Magic were outshot from the
line 108-74, they had 42 free throws to the Pistons' 22. Detroit's
Chucky Atkins and Robinson were incensed enough to draw technicals for complaining.

Orlando got a big second-quarter contribution from a missing
link to come back from a 10-point deficit.

Pat Garrity, hobbling from a bruised pelvis, hit a jumper and
3-pointer, and the Magic reeled off 11 unanswered points for a
30-29 lead with 9:08 left before halftime. Entering the game,
Garrity had missed all seven of his attempts -- making an injection
of cortisone last week his only good shot of the series.

"It's a nice feeling, but we've got to be ready for a war back
there in Detroit,'' said Garrity, who now has seven points for the
series.

From there, the game had 12 lead changes and five ties until
Orlando closed the half on a 7-2 burst for a 54-50 lead.

At the game's start, Detroit's offense showed little sign that
it was going to snap out of its plodding ways. On their opening
five possessions, the Pistons had four poor shots as the clock ran
down and a 24-second violation, and they soon fell behind 13-6.

But the Pistons, led by the point guard who had criticized the
offense's predictability the day before, began to play a faster
style and the points began to flow. Billups had 12 points as
Detroit closed the period on a 23-6 run and led 29-19 after one.

Yet a hot start again went for naught.

"I can't remember a time that three games in a row we have been
up 14, 10 and 10 after the first quarter and we lost that game,''
Pistons forward Michael Curry said. "That's hasn't happened to us
in the last two years.''

Game notes
NBA Commissioner David Stern attended the game. ... The
Pistons' last playoff win on the road came April 27, 1997, when
they beat Atlanta in Game 2 of their first-round series. ...
Detroit, when down 2-1 in a best-of-seven series, has rallied to
win a series two of nine times. ... Entering this postseason,
Orlando had won all five playoff series in which they led.