AUBURN HILLS, MICHIGAN (TICKER) —After Chauncey Billups made sure the game got to overtime, he made sure he would win it.
It did not look like Billups would be able to play the role of hero after the Hawks built a 15-point lead with just over nine minutes remaining in regulation.
But behind rookie Mehmet Okur, who scored all 16 points of his points in the fourth quarter, the Pistons rallied. Billups ensured the game would reach the extra session when the 87 percent free throw shooter made two two foul shots with seven seconds left to tie it, 93-93.
Billups saved his best for last. With the game tied near the end of overtime, the point guard pulled up from the top of the key and sank the game-winning 3-pointer over the 6-2 Jason Terry.
“I’m not even thinking at all, I’m still playing like it’s the first quarter,” said Billups, who went 7-of-23 from the floor. “I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. I just go out. I’m not scared to miss that shot. That comes with it. I just like to be in those situations.”
Earlier this month, Billups hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in a 107-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Billups is not surprised at his ability to come through at crucial times.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a clutch player,” he said. “I haven’t been in that situation a lot of times to be that kind of player. The last time I was in a situation like that was in college. But in the league, I’ve played with Garnett, McDyess and Antoine Walker, so I’ve never really had that chance, had an opportunity. But I’ve always been a clutch player.”
The Pistons also became the first Eastern Conference team to clinch a playoff berth after Milwaukee lost at Denver.
Without Robinson, the Hawks saw a handful of players step up and looked to be on their way to a surprising victory over the Eastern Conference’s top team.
A jumper by Dion Glover, who scored 20 points, gave the Hawks an 80-65 lead with 9:20 remaining in the fourth quarter. But Okur fueled a comeback for the Pistons.
Okur scored nine points, including the final five in a 19-4 surge that tied the contest at 84-84 with 4:06 to play.
“Everybody thought the game was over,” Okur said. “Some fans were leaving the Palace. But that’s why we are on top, that’s why we’re the best team in the East.”
“Mehmet, for a young guy, just plays the game,” Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. “He is not bashful or indecisive. He is getting a better sense of when to be aggressive and when to kick the ball out. His scoring down the stretch of the fourth quarter was essential to our run to get the score tied.”
The Hawks looked like they regrouped as they scored the next seven points. Abur-Rahim converted a three-point play with 3:50 left and made a hook shot around two free throws by Ratliff, making it 91-84 with 1:32 to go.
But Okur responded with a three-point play. After Ratliff and Abdur-Rahim missed short shots, Okur hit two fouls shots with 59 seconds to play to pull the Pistons within 91-89.
Atlanta coach Terry Stotts thought Okur received some help from the officials during the game.
“He (Okur) played well,” Stotts said. “He made a couple of nice drives but I think he got bailed out a couple of times on calls I didn’t expect him to get. He was very instrumental in getting them back.”
Terry missed a layup on the Hawks’ ensuing possession before Hamilton converted on the other end to tie it with 29 seconds to play. Terry made two foul shots with 11 seconds to go before Billups, who scored 23 points, responded from the line four seconds later to send the game into overtime.
Terry finished with 18 points and 10 assists and Ira Newble, who started in place of Robinson, added 11 points for Atlanta, which shot 46 percent (39-of-85). They shot just 38 percent (17-of-45) after halftime against the NBA’s top defensive team.
“You know on the road against the best team in the East that you just have to play each possession,” Stotts said. “I thought the way we battled back when they battled back, we showed a lot of strength and competitiveness to sustain the run.”
After seemingly gaining the momentum, the Pistons scored the first four points of overtime on baskets by Hamilton. But Abdur-Rahim had a dunk with 2:39 left and Terry made two foul shots 23 seconds later to tie it.
Hamilton recovered from a rough start and made seven of his final eight shots to finish 10-of-19 from the floor.
Billups set up Wallace for a thunderous dunk with 1:23 left to give the Pistons the lead, but Abdur-Rahim had a follow dunk with 29 seconds to play, tying it at 99-99.
Clifford Robinson added 13 points for the Pistons, who shot 40 percent (36-of-90) en route to winning for the eighth time in 10 games.
“I’m really proud of the way the guys hung in; things weren’t going well,” Carlisle said. “They just kept playing well and strange things happen if you hang in there. It’s a great win.”