Thursday, May 15, 2003
Pistons take 3-2 lead on Sixers
By Larry Lage
The Associated Press
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Chucky Atkins won a game the Detroit Pistons could not afford to lose.
Atkins' layup with less than a second left was goaltended by Derrick Coleman and gave Detroit a 78-77 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night and a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
"Just please go in, that's all I was saying," said Atkins, who scored 17 points.
The home team has won every game in the series and Game 6 is Friday night in Philadelphia. Game 7, if necessary, is Sunday at The Palace.
The Pistons have lost 14 of their last 15 playoff road games.
Richard Hamilton said the last thing Detroit wanted to do was face elimination at Philadelphia.
"That was a big motivation for us," said Hamilton, who scored 14 of his 20 points during Detroit's dominant first quarter.
Detroit's Jon Barry said it simply: "If you lose this game you're in big trouble."
Allen Iverson missed a desperation heave as time expired to cap an awful shooting night. Iverson missed 20 of 25 shots and finished with 14 points, one more than his career playoff low.
Iverson blamed himself for losing Game 2 after missing two free throws with a two-point lead and 15 seconds left, but he didn't choose to solely shoulder the blame for Game 5.
"This is definitely a team loss," Iverson said. "Every time we lose, I'm not going to put it on me."
He also didn't give Hamilton credit for hounding him.
"The only person in this game that can stop me is me," Iverson said. "I've been saying that since Day 1."
Eric Snow hit a 3-pointer with 9.4 seconds left to give the 76ers their only lead of the game, 77-76.
Atkins, who started in place of injured Chauncey Billups, took an inbounds pass with 3.7 seconds left and drove the right side for the winning shot that was in the basket when Coleman knocked it out from below with .9 seconds left.
The Sixers trailed by 14 points early in the game, and by at least seven until early in the third quarter.
Before Snow's basket, it looked like Tayshaun Prince would be a star again.
Detroit's rookie made a spinning layup for his 13th point with 16.6 seconds left to give the Pistons a 76-74 lead. Prince, who was barely used during the regular season, made a similar shot to force overtime in Game 2 before the Pistons won the game in the extra session.
Coleman had 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Snow had 16 points and Aaron McKie added 10.
Billups sprained his ankle in Game 1, after scoring 101 points in the three previous playoff games.
Iverson was averaging 32.8 points in the playoffs, behind only Los Angeles' Kobe Bryant.
In his previous 10 playoff games, he had scored at least 22 points and led Philadelphia in scoring in each game. Iverson had scored at least 20 points in 22 straight postseason games.
Iverson scored 13 points in the playoffs in 1999 and in 2000.
The game was as exciting as one could be with two teams missing most of their shots.
Detroit shot 39.2 percent and Philadelphia made just 36.7 percent of its shots.
"We ended up with a game played at an unbelievable level of competitiveness," Detroit coach Rick Carlisle said. "That's what playoff basketball is all about. It doesn't matter if the games are high scoring if they are played like this."
Coleman's 3-pointer with 4:36 left pulled the 76ers within three for the first time since the opening minute.
Detroit rookie Mehmet Okur answered with a 3-pointer, but Coleman and Snow made four straight free throws to make it 74-72 with 1:22 left.
Iverson forced a turnover, then turned the ball over himself before tying the game with a high shot off the glass from the right side with 34 seconds left.
The Sixers made a remarkable comeback after the Pistons scored the first eight points and led by 14 five minutes into the game.
Atkins was aggressive and effective immediately in place of Billups, who was expected to play following his 23-minute limp-filled performance in Game 4.
Carlisle said he didn't know Billups would be out until just before the game.
Atkins missed the first shot, then without hesitating, he made two straight 3-pointers to spark Detroit's early burst.
The Pistons led 30-23 after the first quarter.
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