Hold off Pistons in a heartstopper
By OHM YOUNGMISUK
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Brian Scalabrine (l.) and Richard Jefferson celebrate after helping Nets take 3-2 series lead.
Kenyon Martin maneuvers for a shot against Pistons' Corliss Williamson during the first quarter.
AUBURN HILLS - An exhausted, sweat-drenched and bloodied Jason Kidd barely had the energy to celebrate or hug Richard Jefferson when the game finally came to an end.
In a classic reminiscent of their double-overtime Game 5 win over Indiana in 2002, the Nets survived a buzzer-beating half-court prayer by Chauncey Billups in regulation and three overtimes before taking a 127-120 nailbiter from the devastated Pistons before 22,076 at The Palace of Auburn Hills last night.
The Nets knew they were due for a close game in this series, in which the first four games had been decided by an average of 17.5points. But this was ridiculous. After winning just the fourth triple-overtime playoff game in NBA history, the Nets have a chance to close out Detroit in Game 6 tomorrow at the Meadowlands and go to their third straight Eastern Conference finals.
"Nobody wanted to lose tonight," said Lucious Harris. "That was a classic. You will see that game five, six years from now."
Yesterday morning, Kidd had said this would be the biggest game of the series, the closest thing to a Game 7. He wasn't lying as both teams played like their season depended on it. There was blood - Kidd suffered a gash to his nose in the third overtime - sweat, fouls and heroics in a game that took four hours and seven minutes.
Eight players fouled out last night - the most in NBA playoff history - and five players logged over 50 minutes. That forced little-used reserves like the Nets' Brian Scalabrine into action. The third-year forward from USC played the biggest game of his life, scoring a career-high 17 points and making six of seven shots. Richard Jefferson had 31 points and 11 rebounds and scored 18 of his points in the three overtimes after Kenyon Martin (22 points, 9 rebounds) had fouled out with 2:29 left in the fourth.
"I'm not drained, I'm proud," Detroit coach Larry Brown said. "I don't know how many people can see a better game than that."
The Nets had this game seemingly won in regulation when Kidd went to the line with the Nets up two and 11.6 seconds remaining. However, he missed both free throws. Still, Jefferson came up with what looked like a game-sealing block on Billups (31 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists) with 3.9 seconds to go.
The Pistons fouled Kerry Kittles and the Nets began celebrating with 2.9 seconds left. But the Nets should have learned from the Lakers-Spurs Game 5 classic Thursday night that nothing is over until it truly is over.
Kittles missed the first of two foul shots, which allowed Billups to take the inbounds pass, dribble up the court and bank in a 43-foot prayer at the buzzer to force overtime tied at 88.
It was Reggie Miller all over again. Miller banked in a three-point prayer at the buzzer two years ago in the Nets' Game 5 first-round win over Indiana.
"That was what it was, just a little farther," Martin said of Billups' Reggie-like shot. "We had been there before. All I said was, 'Oh, here we go again.'"
That wasn't what Lawrence Frank was thinking. "I'm truly an idiot," the Nets coach said. "Could've fouled, could've double-teamed (Billups). Did neither."
The Nets had a chance to win the game in the first overtime but Kidd - who hit a game-winning shot in Game 1 here in last year's conference finals, couldn't shake Lindsey Hunter and ended up passing the ball away before the Nets turned it over on a shot-clock violation with 2.3 seconds left. Billups missed a contested three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to a second overtime tied at 99.
The Nets had a shot to win the game in the second extra session but Kittles missed a contested off-balance 19-footer and the score stayed 111-all. With all the Nets' big men - Martin, Rodney Rogers, Aaron Williams and Jason Collins - having fouled out going into the third overtime, the Nets were forced to play Scalabrine, Jefferson, Lucious Harris, Kittles and Kidd.
Detroit, however, was without big men Ben and Rasheed Wallace as well as Richard Hamilton - all had fouled out. The Pistons finally ran out of gas, missing 12 of 16 shots in the third overtime while Jefferson and Scalabrine kept hitting big shots. Now the Nets look to close out Detroit knowing that of the 115 previous best-of-seven series that have been tied 2-2, the team that won Game 5 has gone on to win 96 times (83%).
"Missing the free throws that we did and getting the lead in overtime and letting them tie it ... it would have been pretty devastating to lose," Harris said. "That was a classic."