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Pistons pull off sweep of Magic

MARK LONG • Apr 29, 2007 at 12:45 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. - The Orlando Magic had the lead, the momentum and the crowd support. The Detroit Pistons used their postseason experience to overcome all of it.

Chauncey Billups scored 25 points, Richard Hamilton added 19 and the Pistons avoided a fourth-quarter meltdown to beat the Magic 97-93 Saturday and sweep the first-round series.

"The one thing we had such a big advantage on them is experience, and the only way you can get better at that is to go through it," Billups said. "I'm sure there are a lot of things they would change coming down the stretch."

The sweep was Detroit's first in the playoffs since 1990, when the "Bad Boys" won a second consecutive NBA title.

The Pistons handily won the first three games of the best-of-seven series, but the finale was much more difficult - mostly because Detroit went cold to start the final period.

The Pistons were ahead 78-69 early in the fourth, but after missing 11 of their 13 shots to start the period they found themselves trailing 85-80 with about three minutes remaining.

But the veteran team, which has advanced to four consecutive Eastern Conference finals, took control down the stretch.

Rasheed Wallace hit a 3-pointer that made it 85-83. Chris Webber followed with a hook shot in the lane. Then Billups and Hamilton took over, combining to score Detroit's final 12 points.

Hamilton made a jumper in the lane to put the Pistons ahead 87-86, then Billups sank a driving layup high off the glass. Hamilton followed with another jumper - both came over undersized point guard Jameer Nelson - that made it 91-88.

The duo also went 6-of-6 from the free throw line in the final 21 seconds.

"It was good for us to step up and make plays that we did," Tayshaun Prince said. "Obviously, our leadership and our veterans kicked it into gear."

Dwight Howard had 29 points and 17 rebounds - dominating the post for the only time in the series - to lead the Magic. Wallace, Webber and others bottled up Howard in the first three games but had less success Saturday.

Howard was 10-of-15 from the field and 9-of-17 from the free throw line.

Grant Hill, possibly playing his final game for Orlando, had 17 points. Darko Milicic added 14 - half of them in the closing minutes for the Magic.

It wasn't enough, though.

"I thought we would at least get one (game)," Hill said. "Getting swept, that was a surprise."

All five Detroit starters scored in double figures. Prince and Wallace had 13 points apiece, and Webber finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

The Pistons can only hope their starters continue playing the way they did against Orlando.

Detroit, which won all eight games against the Magic this season, will face the winner of the Chicago-Miami series. The Bulls lead 3-0 heading into today's Game 4. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit.

The Magic looked like they would send the series back to Detroit, but the Pistons closed out the final three quarters strong - much like they did in Game 3. They got an unlikely basket to close the half - Hamilton went coast-to-coast in 3.2 seconds for a layup - and Prince had a 3-pointer and two free throws in the final minute of the third. Prince's unanswered points gave the Pistons a 73-67 lead heading into the final 12 minutes. The Magic sliced into the lead with a 12-0 run in the fourth, but had two big turnovers in the final 2 minutes that allowed Detroit to seal the victory. "If you're not competing against them, they're just a really fun team to watch," Magic coach Brian Hill said. "The way they play and their guys are so in tune with each other and so professional. I hope they go a long way."

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