Pistons 69, Pacers 65

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—The Eastern Conference finals ended with a ton of missed shots, stingy defense and a forearm shiver.

Fittingly, perhaps.

Richard Hamilton scored 21 points—four after being flagrantly fouled by Ron Artest—to help the Detroit Pistons advance to the NBA Finals with a 68-65 victory over Indiana on Tuesday night.

The defensive-minded teams set an NBA playoff record by combining for 60 points in the first half, eight days after they broke the mark for fewest points in any playoff half.

Both teams failed to even reach 37-percent shooting in the sixth and final game of the gritty series.

“I don’t know if it was a classic in a lot of people’s eyes,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said. “But I guess if the series was going to end, this is the kind of game it should have ended with.”

The Pistons will open the NBA Finals in Los Angeles on Sunday night against the heavily favored Lakers.

“The Pistons team is built the right way to play the Lakers,” said Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, fired last year after two successful seasons in Detroit. “They’ve got big guys that can shoot the ball deep. They’ve got rebounding. They’ve got perimeter guards that can dribble, pass and shoot.

“They’ve got a great chance to win a championship.”

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

It’s 14 years later, and the Pistons will enter the championship round again with a team that relies on defense.

Detroit and Indiana combined for just 60 first-half points in Game 6, breaking the NBA playoff record of 62 set by the Pistons and New Jersey during the second round.

They finished with a combined total of 134—just four more than the record.

Detroit’s Ben Wallace had 12 points and 16 rebounds, Rasheed Wallace added 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Chauncey Billups scored 10.

With red, white and blue confetti flickering and fluttering in the air after the game, Rasheed Wallace and Hamilton jumped atop the scorer’s table and celebrated with the fans.

They responded by chanting: “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A!”

“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,” Detroit’s Corliss Williamson said.

Finally drawing the coverage of Artest, the Defensive Player of the Year, Hamilton scored only one point in the first quarter before closing the game strong.

Especially, after 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.

Hamilton pulled himself off the court and made two free throws to put Detroit ahead—for the first time—61-59 with 3:57 left.

With Artest trying to stay with him around screens, Hamilton made a runner to put the Pistons up 65-61 with 1:13 to go.

“My teammates just told me to keep my mental part of the game. Don’t let him get into my head,” Hamilton said. “Sometimes it takes something like that to set you right.”

Detroit won for the first time in seven games when trailing after three quarters, while the Pacers lost for the first time in 10 games when starting the fourth with the lead.

Jermaine O’Neal, slowed by a knee injury, scored 20 points to lead the Pacers. Reserve Austin Croshere scored 12 points, and Artest added 11 for the Pacers—held to 10 points in the second quarter, 17 in the third and 15 in the fourth.

O’Neal’s basket with 2:42 left was Indiana’s last field goal until 40 seconds remained.

Indiana set a record for the fewest field goals in a six-game series with 156 on 447 shots (34.9 percent).

“I think more than anything, it is not our time,” Carlisle said.

Even though he was fired by the Pistons, Carlisle said he was pleased for them.

“It was tough to lose, but from here on in, I won’t be rooting against them,” he said.

Even though the Pistons set out to win the East before the season—and felt great about their chances when they acquired Rasheed Wallace on Feb. 19— they’re not satisfied.

“We don’t want to be content with just being in the finals,” Ben Wallacesaid.

Notes

Brown has 81 playoff victories, tied with K.C. Jones for fourth place on the career list. Brown ranks second among active coaches behind Lakers coach Phil Jackson (174). … Over the past three years, the Pistons have won their last six games when they had a chance to advance. … Faces in the crowd included Kid Rock, former Pistons coach Chuck Daly, Lions coach Steve Mariucciand Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Indiana
R. Artest R. Artest
4-13,  11 Pts
10 Rebs, 5 Assists
 Detroit
R. Hamilton R. Hamilton
7-15,  21 Pts
5 Rebs, 5 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists