PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; Pistons lead 3-1.
The two-time defending conference champions look to close out their series with the Milwaukee Bucks as they host Game 5 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Hamilton has averaged just 16.8 points on 34.5 percent shooting in this series, well below his season averages of 20.1 and 49.1, respectively, and his career playoff scoring average of 20.9 points. He went just 4-for-14 from the field in Tuesday’s 109-99 win at Milwaukee, but hit a key 3-pointer in a game-breaking 8-0 fourth-quarter run and also made 9 of 10 shots from the foul line.
“Regardless of how I shoot, if I can do any other thing to help my team win — if that’s defend or whatever—I’m going to be out there,” said Hamilton, who has been slowed by a thigh bruise and ankle injury in this series.
“I’m beat up. I’m just trying to fight through it and that’s my role.”
While Hamilton struggled, point guard Chauncey Billups picked up the slack. The MVP candidate scored 34 points, hit all 16 of his free throws and did a stellar job containing Bucks counterpart T.J. Ford in the fourth quarter after Ford had netted 16 third-period points.
“We’re always comfortable when Chauncey has the ball in his hands in any situation,” Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter said. “He’s played in those situations.”
That comfort after deep playoff runs the past two years is key for the Pistons as first-year coach Flip Saunders tries to lead them to their second NBA title in three years.
“There’s no question it helps when you’ve been there, you know what to expect,” Saunders said. “That’s one of the reasons that we didn’t take many bad shots in the fourth quarter. We took some bad ones in the third, but when it came down to crunch time, we moved the ball, got some open looks, got mismatches, got to the free-throw line and did the things that you need to do offensively.”
Michael Redd scored 33 points for the Bucks, continuing his strong play in the series. Redd is averaging 34.0 points while shooting 60.7 percent from the field in his last three games, but without consistent contributions from his teammates, the Bucks are likely looking at their second first-round elimination by the Pistons in three years.
“It’s win or go home now, like they say,” Bucks forward Joe Smith said. “There’s a lot of pressure on our backs. We have a lot of guys in this locker room that are willing to step up to the challenge. It’s going to be tough in Detroit, but we feel that if we go out there with a positive attitude, learn from our mistakes (Monday) and build upon what we’ve been doing positive this series, I think we’ll be fine.”
Ford finished with 21 points and five assists, but also committed six of Milwaukee’s series-high 16 turnovers. Those miscues led to 33 points for the Pistons, who had just six turnovers of their own.
“That’s what hurt us,” Ford said. “We’ve got to protect the ball, go watch film and make adjustments.”
The Bucks would host Game 6 on Friday if they win this game.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Bucks - 8th seed. Pistons - 1st seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Bucks - Redd, 28.3 ppg; Magloire 9.0 rpg; Ford, 6.5 apg. Pistons - Billups, 23.5 ppg and 6.3 apg; Ben Wallace, 9.3 rpg.