There is a reason the Detroit Pistons have been to five consecutive Eastern Conference finals. They proved it last night, even without their All-Star point guard to hold things together in front of a hostile crowd.
Richard Hamilton scored 32 points and Hedo Turkoglu missed a layup with time running out as the Pistons beat the Magic, 90-89, in Orlando, Fla., to take a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Pistons became the first team to win on the road in the second round this postseason, and can clinch their sixth consecutive conference finals appearance when the series returns to Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday.
All of it happened with Chauncey Billups watching in a sport coat on the bench after straining a hamstring in Game 3.
"We just played 'D' - that's what we do," said Rasheed Wallace, who had 16 points and eight rebounds. "It was a physical game on both sides of the ball. That is our style. We like being physical. We just wish we could do that more often."
Tayshaun Prince scored 17 for Detroit, including an 11-foot runner for the go-ahead basket with 8.9 seconds left. Antonio McDyess added 8 points and 14 boards.
The Pistons controlled the tempo in the second half after falling behind by 15 in the third quarter, deflated the Magic transition game, and pounded Dwight Howard in the paint.
Still, Orlando had a chance late in the game - actually a few of them. Down by a point out of a timeout after Prince's basket, Turkoglu held the ball at the top of the key as time wound down, then missed a contested layup in the lane. Howard's follow also was no good, and neither player drew the foul he wanted. Jameer Nelson also missed one of two foul shots with 44 seconds left, which would've tied the game.
"From a coaching standpoint, we've had three end-of-the-game possessions in this series. And we haven't gotten a very good shot on any possession," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "So you've got to lay that on me."
Turkoglu made two 3-pointers and a 3-point play in a minute-and-a-half span that put Orlando ahead, 86-84, with 2:33 left.
"I was reading the situation," Turkoglu said of the final sequence. "I didn't want to rush and force a bad shot. Maybe I was holding it too long instead of going right away. I'm just upset that I couldn't help the team."
So much for Carlos Boozer's slump and the Lakers' unbeaten run through the playoffs.
Boozer scored 27 points and tied a career playoff high with 20 rebounds to lead host Utah to a 104-99 victory Friday, cutting Los Angeles's lead in the Western Conference semifinals to 2-1.
The Jazz handed the Lakers their first loss of this season's playoffs and got back into the series by doing at home what they couldn't do on the road. The Jazz hit exactly half their shots and forced the Lakers into 18 turnovers, looking very little like the team that stumbled through two straight losses in Los Angeles to open the series.
"We competed very hard, much better than we did over there," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said.