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Pistons force Game 7


SAN ANTONIO - They weren't supposed to beat that "greatest ever" Los Angeles Lakers team last year. The one with the four Hall of Famers.

They weren't supposed to get by Shaquille O'Neal, but they did twice, including this year without him having the distraction of Kobe Bryant. They weren't supposed to be here, and probably wouldn't be if Dwyane Wade hadn't been hurt. They weren't supposed to survive the early-season riot and coach Larry Brown's riotous season.

And they weren't supposed to be playing anymore today. But they're still standing, with a chip on their shoulder the size of a Cadillac and a high-powered engine of determination.

The defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons stood up at the unlikeliest time once again. They defeated the San Antonio Spurs, 95-86, last night to set up the ultimate contest, Game 7 of the NBA Finals tomorrow night at SBC Center.

It will be the first NBA Finals Game 7 since the Houston Rockets' win over the New York Knicks in 1994 and only the fifth since 1975.

"We can fight any odds," the Pistons' Rasheed 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."

Richard Hamilton led all scorers with 23 points for the Pistons and Chauncey Billups added 21. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili each had 21 for the Spurs.

After four straight one-sided games, the teams once again provided brilliant drama after Robert Horry's thrilling game-winner in Game 5.

The Pistons moved out to an 80-73 lead midway through the fourth quarter as Duncan again labored at the free-throw line (5-for-10). But Tony Parker and Ginobili came back with three-pointers and Duncan battled again and again inside to get the Spurs back within a point with a bit more than two minutes remaining, hearts pounding as loudly as the building.

Stunningly, it was Wallace, who had played off Horry in Game 5 to allow the game-winner, who came back with key baskets down the stretch. He gave the Pistons an 84-81 lead, then a three-pointer to keep them ahead 87-82 and a follow of a Billups shot to put the Pistons ahead 91-86 with 1:25 left.

"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."

How does one ignore all those "World Champion" T-shirts and hats being unloaded from boxes outside the locker room, the arena being set up in anticipation of a post-game ceremony?

That's what confronted the Spurs yesterday. They certainly were considering glory and adulation as the Pistons were wondering what it takes to be a bunch of idiots like the baseball Boston Red Sox.

"I'll lie to them and bring up some story in my career that parallels this. I'm sure I've been through this," Pistons coach Larry Brown said before the game.

Brown just can't remember in what city or for what team.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been here for two previous titles, although the 1999 New York Knicks and 2003 New Jersey Nets haven't been as formidable as the defending champion Pistons.

"You can't be concerned about the outcome and what it means," Popovich said. "If you win this, if you lose this, whether it's the 17th game [of the season] or this game."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

NBA Finals

San Antonio vs. Detroit

Best of seven

All games on chs. 2, 7

(Series tied 3-3)

Game 1: San Antonio, 84-69

Game 2: San Antonio, 97-76

Game 3: Detroit, 96-79

Game 4: Detroit, 102-71

Game 5: San Antonio, 96-95, OT

Yesterday: Detroit, 95-86

Tomorrow: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.

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