R. Wallace effortlessly shoots from goat to hero


SAN ANTONIO - It was Ben Wallace, in the persistent gloom enveloping the Detroit Pistons after their devastating home loss in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, who said, "We gotta do what they did." Meaning, reach down and find enough of what they call "huevos" here in southeastern Texas to survive in a road cauldron and keep their hopes of repeating as NBA champs alive.

The Pistons did last night at SBC Center what the Spurs did at the Palace of Auburn Hills. And giving them as big a helping hand as anybody - showing more of what was needed to win there than anyone on the court - was the certifiable goat of Tuesday's loss, the other Wallace, Rasheed.

Someone had to make up for Rasheed Wallace having committed the gaffe of the millennium in Game 5, leaving Robert Horry alone to hit the game-winning three-pointer. Who better than Wallace himself?

So the universally reproached Rasheed knocked down three of the biggest shots of the Pistons' season in the game's final 5:18. Playing with five fouls and in a game that featured 11 ties and 23 lead changes, one that didn't see a lead bigger than seven points, Wallace hit a jumper that stretched a one-point lead to three, then saved a near-disastrous possession with a three-pointer from the top of the key with the Spurs down by two, and applied the dagger with 1:25 to go with a deft put-back of Chauncey Billups' drive.

That pushed the Pistons' lead to 91-86. All they had to do was hang on then, the way they couldn't in Auburn Hills two days earlier. Because they could do it this time, they get to play one game for a second straight championship. Because Rasheed Wallace has either a short memory or immense self-confidence - or both - the Pistons live on.

It's what this team does. Until last night, it was assumed that they did it better than the Spurs do. In light of what the Spurs weren't able to do last night, one would have to give the edge, in the first seventh and deciding game of the Finals in 11 years, to the defending champs.

The emotional and psychological edge the Spurs had brought with them from the Upper Midwest might have evaporated already. They didn't look like a team ready to win a championship, even if their home city was more than ready.

It might have been a myth - or intentional prevarication on the part of coach Larry Brown - that a victory parade was planned for tomorrow; at least that was what was written on the greaseboard in the visiting locker room before the game. If nothing else, it was a nice ploy borrowed from Charles Barkley in 1993, when his slogan "Save the City" helped his Suns keep the Bulls from triggering a Chicago championship riot.

Last night, Rasheed Wallace offered the final word on ABC immediately after the final buzzer: "They had their Cristal ready, but we're gonna pop it Thursday."

Wallace, of course, was hardly alone last night, although he was alone in taking the blame for Sunday's loss. Not that he didn't deserve it, but the Pistons deserve credit for going out of their way not to hang their lightning rod of a teammate out to dry following that game. Brown, fighting to stay calm and composed that night, said it was his fault for not explaining his directions thoroughly enough.

The other Pistons players refused to single that one play out, noting that there were enough moments in which they could have given themselves a cushion - and, besides, as wide open as he was, Horry still had to hit the shot.

In the ever-tightening sixth game, Rasheed was forced to the bench 37 seconds into the fourth quarter and didn't come back until the 5:18 mark - and the Spurs kept chomping at what had been a seven-point lead when he left. But miraculously, in such a seesaw game, the Pistons never lost their lead. By the time Wallace came back, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Lindsey Hunter (twice) had hit huge baskets. The defense, as usual, closed rank, coming up with three straight tremendous stops at point-blank range when the lead was only three.

And the Pistons had the distinct advantage of being able to witness another sparkling free-throw performance by Tim Duncan. The Big Clunkin' Metal flubbed half of his six foul shots in the final quarter and, despite coming up with two huge baskets back-to-back to close the gap to 87-86, he also blew a layup and his put-back with 40 seconds to go and the Spurs' chances slipping away.

At home with a chance to schedule that parade, the Spurs went scoreless for the last 2:22 of the game.

Now, they need to do what the Pistons did. And they need the short memory and super ego of Rasheed Wallace.

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