<
>

Winner takes all on Thursday

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich met at
midcourt as the final buzzer sounded to exchange handshakes and a
hug. Never before has there been an NBA Finals moment quite like
it, and another rarity -- a Game 7 for the championship -- will
unfold next.
The Detroit Pistons weren't ready to concede their title Tuesday
night, and the San Antonio Spurs weren't quite good enough to earn
it.
Behind the scoring of guards Chauncey Billups and Richard
Hamilton and several clutch plays from foul-plagued Rasheed Wallace
down the stretch, the defending champions displayed the resiliency
they've become known for and defeated San Antonio 95-86 in Game 6
of the NBA Finals.
For the first time since 1994, the finals are going to a
winner-take-all game.
"Not today. Not tonight. Not today. Not tonight," Billups said
as he walked to the locker room after the game.
"This is how we do it," Lindsey Hunter sang as he exited the
shower.
Billups made five of the Pistons' eight 3-pointers as Detroit
matched its long-range output from the first five games combined.
Billups scored 21, Hamilton had 23 and Wallace 16 for the Pistons,
who played at their peak despite being on the brink of elimination
-- just as they did in the Eastern Conference finals against Miami
earlier this month.
Brown won his 100th playoff game as an NBA coach, breaking a tie
with Red Auerbach for third-most in league history. If he gets No.
101 on Thursday night, he may end up retiring at the apex of his
career achievements.
"I've been with these guys for two years, and they don't
disappoint me in terms of their desire to win and their respect for
each other," Brown said.
There were 23 lead changes and seven ties in the first three
quarters before Detroit built a seven-point lead early in the
fourth quarter and stayed ahead the rest of the way, handing the
Spurs just their sixth home loss in 51 games at the SBC Center this
season.
Now, the Pistons will have to try to become the first team in
finals history to win the last two games on the road. But given
what they've done over the past two seasons, refusing to quit when
circumstances are most dire, they have to be considered a
legitimate candidate to make a little more history.
"We can fight any odds," Wallace said. "You know, a lot of
people thought we were going to be out tonight, but -- they had
their Cristal ready and all that stuff, but -- hey, we're going to
pop it Thursday."
Once again, ball control was one of the key factors as Detroit
committed just five turnovers against 19 assists. Billups played
brilliantly for the second straight game, and Hamilton was not
affected by the tight defense of Bruce Bowen -- even after Bowen
swiped Hamilton's mask off his face in the fourth quarter. Hamilton
flung the mask aside, wrinkled his nose a few times and finished
the game without it.
"We're just tough as nails," Billups said. "Our motto is, 'If
it ain't rough, it ain't right.' We always make it tough on
ourselves, but we always find a way to climb out of that foxhole."
Duncan had 21 points and 15 rebounds, but the Spurs' offense
rarely ran though him as it normally does so fluidly. Manu Ginobili
also scored 21 for San Antonio, which was outscored 24-19 in the
fourth quarter.
The Pistons were looking everywhere they could for motivation. A
sign on the greaseboard in Detroit's locker room read: "San
Antonio's parade is scheduled for Thursday!!!," and Detroit
forward Darvin Ham yelled: "Anybody want Cristal? They just
brought four cases to their locker room!"
But the Pistons probably didn't need any extra reason to push
harder: Time and again, they've proven that pride is enough to fuel
them.

The early part of the third quarter hammered home the point that
the Spurs would only get as far as Ginobili, not Duncan, would take
them. Ginobili was as aggressive going to the basket as he had been
in Games 1 and 2, while Duncan was having difficulty freeing
himself from the double-teams that he rarely saw in the first five
games.
Even when he got the ball in single coverage outside, he was not
in position to use his best moves. Absent the usual contributions
from the two-time finals MVP, the Spurs just weren't themselves.
As for the Pistons, their offense continued to come from the
clutch long-range shooting of Billups and the mid-range game of
Hamilton. Billups was 6-for-13 from the field for 21 points and
Hamilton was 8-of-16 for 19 points when the third quarter ended
with the Pistons ahead 71-67.
A three-point play by Antonio McDyess to open the fourth quarter
made it 74-67 -- the largest lead for either team to that point, and
Detroit stayed ahead from there.
"We saw them get frustrated at the end, so we tried to keep the
pressure on them," Detroit's Antonio McDyess said.
The Spurs held a 47-46 lead at intermission behind 12 points
from Ginobili and 10 from Parker.
After San Antonio pulled to 82-81 on a 3 by Ginobili with 4:48
left, Wallace had a corner jumper, a 3-pointer and a putback as
part of a 9-4 run that made it 91-86. Wallace then stole a pass by
Ginobili with 1:16 left, and the Spurs were all but done.
"I did a bonehead play the other night. I just had to put it
behind me," said Wallace, who left Robert Horry open for the
game-winning 3-pointer in Game 5.
But that shot is part of the past, same as the blowouts from the
first four games.
Now, it all comes down to one more game.
Game 7.

Game notes
The Pistons' previous win in San Antonio was on April 2, 1997 ... Detroit is 7-0 in the 2005 playoffs when Wallace scores more than 15 points in a game; 6-6 when he scores 15 or less. This was his first performance of more than 15 points in this year's Finals. Since joining the Pistons, he has never been held to 15 points or less in six consecutive games.