LANDOVER -- Before yesterday's game with the Washington Bullets at the Capital Centre, Detroit Pistons captain Isiah Thomas said, "After all we've been through, if we make the playoffs this year, it will be a miracle."
A sellout crowd of 18,756 watched the Pistons perform at least a minor miracle. Minus scoring leader Joe Dumars (strained right knee) and Thomas, who was ejected seven seconds into the second quarter, Detroit rallied in the second half to whip the Bullets, 106-94.
It was unsung Gerald Glass (14 points), Melvin Newbern (nine points), a graduate of the Global Basketball League, and all-purpose guard Alvin Robertson (26 points, seven rebounds, three steals), acquired from Milwaukee a few minutes before the Feb. 25 trade deadline, who triggered the comeback.
In winning their sixth straight, the Pistons (37-37), who were 21-29 at the All-Star break, climbed into a tie with the Indiana Pacers for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Asked how big it was winning this game without his two best players, Pistons coach Ron Rothstein said, "Gigantic!"
It was more than just another frustrating loss for the lottery-bound Bullets (21-55), who staged a typical fourth-quarter collapse after having a 68-60 lead late in the third period.
Point guard Michael Adams jammed his left hand running into Thomas in the first quarter and broke the metatarsal bone in his ring finger. He will be sidelined for the remaining seven games of the season.
"It's frustrating, but it's part of the game," said Adams, who suffered a similar injury last year. "This season is winding down, and we're not going to the playoffs, so it's best it happened at the end of the year. I'm outta here."
The job of replacing Adams, who was averaging 14.9 points and 7.6 assists, fell to rookie Brent Price, who responded with 11 points and a career-high 10 assists.
But defensively, Price had trouble stopping Danny Young, who broke loose for three layups, and the more physical Newbern, who used his superior height and size to overpower Price inside.
"That was a big confidence-builder for our bench," said Thomas. "All season long, they've been up and down, but they really delivered for us today."
But it was the tough-minded Robertson, playing the full 48 minutes, who kept the Pistons together after Thomas was tossed. Referee Billy Oakes slapped him with a second technical while he was sitting on the bench.
Thomas insisted he never cursed or attempted to embarrass Oakes. Scratched on the arm in the first quarter by Bullets guard LaBradford Smith, Thomas said he shouted at the lead referee, "That's no scratch, it's a gash."
Nevertheless, Rothstein found himself without his two starting guards, who account for most of the team's limited offense.
Robertson, a defensive specialist who has been playing small forward since coming to Detroit, stepped up his offense, hitting seven of 15 shots and 11 of 12 from the foul line.
"Alvin had a great, great game," said Rothstein. "He was a rock out there today."
There were no rocks on the Bullets' side as they repeatedly squandered opportunities to overtake the Pistons in the final quarter.
They trailed 94-88 with five minutes left when Young broke free for a layup.
Washington's final chance came after rookie forward Tom Gugliotta holed a three-pointer, making it 97-91 with 1:40 remaining. The Bullets played tough defense for the next 19 seconds, trapping Robertson on the sidelines with five seconds left on the shot clock. Robertson alertly called a timeout.
In the huddle, Bullets coach Wes Unseld warned his players that Dennis Rodman (14 points, 17 rebounds) would try to slip under the hoop on a patented Pistons out-of-bounds play. And just as predicted, Rodman got behind Gugliotta for the game-clinching layup.
"We've got more than our share of injuries, but so do they," said Gugliotta, aware that Adams joined centers Pervis Ellison and Charles Jones on the injured list. "The truth is we just weren't tough enough today."