ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—The Detroit Pistons showed they know how to close out quarters. Now they want to close out another series.
The victory ended a postseason trend for the Pistons—they had lost their last six Game 3s when leading 2-0—and left them one victory from advancing to the second round.
Game 4 is Saturday in Orlando.
Detroit, which has made four straight Eastern Conference finals, gave the Magic plenty of chances in this one. The Pistons trailed early, let Orlando be physical and seemingly got flustered as they were whistled for three technical fouls. Leading scorer Richard Hamilton even had an off night, scoring 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting.
But Detroit made up for it with solid 3-point shooting—Prince, Billups and Rasheed Wallace were a combined 8-of-10 from behind the arc—and strong finishes to each of the first three quarters.
“They hit shots in the course of a game that normal teams don’t hit,” said Jameer Nelson, who led the Magic with 27 points.
The Pistons scored the final six points of the first quarter, tying the game at 23. They made two baskets in the closing seconds before halftime, including a 3-pointer by Billups as he was falling out of bounds. And Prince hit a 3 on the last possession of the third.
Those 14 points essentially turned a close game into a double-digit lead.
“Those are plays that are killers when they’re against you,” Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. “When they happen for you, they give you a nice cushion.”
The biggest one may have come just before halftime. Orlando looked like it would keep it close heading into the locker room, maybe even hold a lead.
But Prince hit a 20-footer with 2.3 seconds remaining and the shot clock winding down—his second jumper in the final 45 seconds.
“He’s the one guy on our team that people don’t talk about,” Saunders said. “He’s kind of a silent assassin.”
Prince then stole an errant inbound pass from Turkoglu and fed Billups, who hit a falling-down 3 just before the final buzzer.
Those two shots turned a one-point game into a 48-42 advantage for Detroit.
“It was disappointing the way we finished both of the first two quarters,” Magic coach Brian Hill said. “We had essentially tie games or two-point games. It was unnecessary.”
It also was disheartening for a young Orlando team making its first trip to the postseason in four years.
“It’s real tough when you turn the ball over and they hit a 3,” Nelson said. “Things happen in the course of the basketball game. We talked about it at halftime. We talked about moving on to the next play. It was miscommunication.”
The Magic, who have lost all seven meetings with Detroit this season, vowed to be more aggressive in Game 3. They were, and it worked early.
Howard, who lacked energy in Game 2 because of a stomach illness, set the tone with three dunks in the first quarter. His teammates drove more often. And the Magic played better and more physical defense all around.
But when the Pistons started clamping down on Howard—they double-teamed just about every time he touched the ball in the final three periods—no one other than Nelson stepped up.
And the Magic fell into an even deeper hole.
“Game 4 is a pride game,” Brian Hill said. “This is our building. We let them come in and get a win. We’ve got to try to establish ourselves and not let them end the series here.”
The Pistons got flustered early—they seemed to get caught up in Orlando’s emotional and aggressive play—and looked like they might lose another Game 3.
But the Pistons never panicked.
They settled down after each of them and played like they have all season— as the best road team in the East. It helped them go ahead 3-0 in a series for the first time since their championship season in 1990.
“It was a great win for us,” Billups said. “It showed our experience, our poise, staying composed in adverse situations.”
Golfer Tiger Woods sat courtside for the game. Florida stars Al Horford and Taurean Green, who helped lead the Gators to consecutive national titles, also were courtside. … The Magic asked their fans to wear blue T-shirts as part of their “Code Blue” postseason marketing campaign, but the team wore white, making the arena look more like a Pistons crowd.