CHICAGO (AP)—The white towel draped over Rasheed Wallace’s shoulder after the game seemed out of place in the Detroit Pistons’ locker room, given the way they had just fought back. The Chicago Bulls might want to throw one in, though.
The Pistons dug in, putting Chicago in a hole from which no NBA team has emerged.
Tayshaun Prince scored 23 points and Chauncey Billups added 21, and the Pistons rallied from a 19-point deficit to beat the Bulls 81-74 on Thursday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“We had nothing to lose coming into the second half,” Prince said. “We stepped our defense up and more importantly took care of the basketball. We did a good job of rebounding. We got a couple of baskets to go for us and it set our defense up and we were able to get some turnovers and get some rebounds and we were able to do some good things.”
The Pistons, who swept Orlando in the first round, will try to wrap up this one Sunday at the United Center.
No NBA team has won a best-of-seven series after dropping the first three games, and only three major professional teams have done that—the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2004 Boston Red Sox.
“We love a challenge, man,” Billups said. “We love any time we can get 20,000 fans against us and we can start hearing the crowd boo us and the hecklers. We just take that challenge, man, and we love those situations. We thrive on those situations.”
After blowing out the Bulls in the first two games at The Palace of Auburn Hills, the Pistons trailed 44-28 at halftime. They were down 49-30 early in the third and 55-38 midway through the quarter, and they certainly were hearing it from a raucous crowd.
But Prince, Billups and Wallace brought them back. Now, they’re one win away from their fifth straight conference finals.
“Perseverance—that’s the type of team that we are,” Wallace said. “No matter what the deficit is, we feel that we can come back from it.”
Prince scored 13 points in the third quarter and Billups added 10. Wallace had a block in the closing seconds and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to pull Detroit within 61-60. He then put them ahead with a jumper just under two minutes into the fourth and added a 3-pointer that made it a five-point game midway through the quarter.
“I was encouraged. We knew at the start of the game we allowed them to take the first punch and we weren’t as aggressive as we should have been,” Billups said. Then he explained the comeback: “It was our defensive pressure. It allowed us to get in the passing lanes, get steals. We had settled too much. In the second half we got aggressive and played Piston basketball.”
Wallace had 16 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks for Detroit, and Richard Hamilton scored 16 points.
Luol Deng led Chicago with 21 points, but was just 8-for-22 from the field. The Bulls were 28-of-83 (33.7 percent) almost the same percentage (33.6) they managed in the first two games, and again, they had no answer for the Pistons’ zone.
Detroit used it most of the second half, and the Bulls shot 10-of-41— including 4-for-25 in the fourth quarter. And while Bulls coach Scott Skiles again downplayed its effectiveness, saying his team was “getting shots all over the place,” Wallace had another view.
“That’s just lying to themselves about things that we do,” he said.
Chicago came up short at the free throw line as well, missing 10 in the game, seven of those in the fourth quarter.
“We just lost on our homecourt, so this loss hurts a lot more than the other two, even though we played hard tonight and fought hard,” Deng said. “I think we played better today than last two games, but it’s still a loss and it still hurts.”
The Bulls outscored the Pistons 22-6 over the final 7:15 of the second quarter, turning a 22-22 tie into a 44-28 halftime lead. They led by 19 early in the third, but with the score 55-38 midway through the quarter, Detroit scored 12 straight points, eight by Prince.
Consecutive baskets by Chicago’s Andres Nocioni made it 61-52 with 1:18 left in the quarter, but Billups answered with a 3 and Antonio McDyess followed with a layup. Wallace blocked Deng’s baseline drive, forcing a shot-clock violation with 5.4 seconds left, and he hit the 3-pointer at the buzzer to pull the Pistons within 61-60.
His jumper just under two minutes into the fourth gave them their first lead since the opening quarter—62-61. And Wallace’s 3-pointer made it 72-67 with six minutes left.
After a basket by Billups, Kirk Hinrich hit a 3 to make it 74-70 with 3:56 left, but the Bulls couldn’t get closer.
Ben Gordon scored 16 points for Chicago but was 4-for-16 from the field, while Hinrich had 13 points. Ben Wallace showed up at the arena about 1 hour, 15 minutes before tipoff and finished with five points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.
“It’s the biggest loss of everybody’s life because it’s the last game,” Gordon said. “We had a 19-point lead and they chipped away at it. It’s tough to lose like that.”
Ben Wallace would not say why he was late, telling reporters: “I don’t have to explain myself to nobody.” Skiles, who was not thrilled about the late arrival, said: “Somebody said the traffic was really bad at that time. I mean it usually is in Chicago. I really haven’t given it a lot of thought. that wasn’t high on my list of priorities.” … Detroit shot 4-of-18 in the second quarter and 6-of-20 in the fourth. But the Pistons went 13-of-22 in the third.