Hamilton gives Pistons pretty finish to ugly game

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 2, 2004

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - When a bad game turned ugly, Richard Hamilton was infuriated enough to make the shot of the night.

In one of the lowest-scoring games in NBA playoff history, Hamilton hit a clutch running jumper from the left baseline shortly after being flagrantly fouled by Ron Artest.

The shot gave the Pistons a late four-point lead, and Detroit went on to defeat the Indiana Pacers 69-65 Tuesday night and advance to the NBA Finals.

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A thing of beauty Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals wasn't, even to Pistons fans who booed in the first half but were on their feet by the end.

And it certainly couldn't have thrown anything resembling a scare into the Los Angeles Lakers, who will be the host for Game 1 of the finals on Sunday night.

''I don't know how people around the country viewed the game, but as a coach who respects hard play and effort, I was glad to be a part of this,'' said Pistons coach Larry Brown, who will return to the finals for the first time since 2001 when he coached Philadelphia.

This will be the Pistons' first trip to the finals since 1990 when the team nicknamed ''Bad Boys'' for their physical style of play won their second consecutive title.

It's 14 years later, and the Pistons will enter the championship round with a team that plays superb defense. Their offense, however, brings a different connotation to the ''Bad Boys'' moniker.

The teams combined for just 60 first-half points, breaking the NBA playoff record of 62 set by the Pistons and New Jersey Nets during the second round, and finished with a combined total of 134 - just four more than the record-low.

The Pistons won despite shooting a shade under 33 percent from the field.

''To think we could win a game shooting 32 percent blows my mind,'' Brown said.

Hamilton scored 21 points, Ben Wallace had 12 points and 16 rebounds, Rasheed Wallace had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Chauncey Billups added 10 points for the Pistons.

When the final buzzer sounded, Ben Wallace twirled his way to center court and joined a spirited celebration that included Rasheed Wallace and Hamilton jumping atop the scorer's table and saluting the fans.

A chant of ''Beat L.A.'' rang out as the Pistons were presented with the Eastern Conference championship trophy.

The Lakers were installed as a 7-point favorite for Game 1.

''A lot of people don't expect us to win, but in our minds and in our hearts, we feel like we're going to win a championship,'' Pistons forward Corliss Williamson said. ''We're looking forward to the challenge. We'd love to be able stick our tongue out at people.''

Detroit became the first team to beat the Pacers after trailing entering the fourth quarter. Indiana had been 9-0 this postseason in such situations.

Jermaine O'Neal scored 20 points to lead the Pacers, who were held to 10 points in the second quarter, 17 in the third and 15 in the fourth.

Billups hit a 3-pointer 3 minutes into the fourth quarter to make it 54-54, the first tie since it was 2-2. It was Billups' first field goal after starting 0-for-8.

With the score 59-59, Artest committed a flagrant foul against Hamilton by striking him in the face with a forearm, apparently in retaliation after Artest was hit below the belt.

''It wasn't intentional. He just ran into me,'' Artest said.