- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS — As the Detroit Pistons walked off the floor, a few dozen fans clad in red, white and blue serenaded them with a chant of “Beat L.A.!”

Forgive those folks for getting ahead of themselves, both with the results of this series and the one in the West. Given the way the Pistons played in Game5, it’s looking quite likely that Detroit will make it to the championship round.

Richard Hamilton scored a career playoff high 33 points, 12 of them coming in succession when the Pistons took the lead for good in a 83-65 victory over the Indiana Pacers last night for a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

“Even coming out warming up, there were a lot of fans out there chanting ‘Go, Pistons,’” Detroit forward Corliss Williamson said. “It’s nice to know that we have fans that are faithful enough to follow us here and try to get us that extra edge we need. You really don’t expect to see that in someone else’s arena.”

Many of those fans made the five-hour drive from Michigan, where Game6 will be played tomorrow night with the Pistons having the opportunity to clinch the franchise’s first trip to the finals since 1990.

“Well, we’ve still got some unfinished business with these guys,” said Darvin Ham, who joked with Rasheed Wallace in the locker room afterward about one of the eight field goals Wallace made.

The basket came midway through the fourth quarter after Indiana had cut an 18-point deficit to five. Wallace took a pass in the left corner and hit a tough 16-foot turnaround over Reggie Miller.

“Were youlaughing when you shot that?” Ham asked.

“I was laughing before I caught it,” Wallace replied. “I had Reggie on me.”

Wallace finished with 22 points in another game dominated by defense, and Hamilton did most of his damage in the second and third quarters before hitting a 3-pointer that ended all doubt with 1:45 remaining.

Wallace was the only Pistons player besides Hamilton to reach double figures.

“Detroit played their game at a higher level than we were able to play our game,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.

Detroit held the injury-riddled Pacers to 33 percent shooting and won on Indiana’s home court for the second time in the series.

Several of the Pistons exchanged high-fives with their fans, who held up signs reading “Bad Boys are Back” and “It’s HamilTime.”

Indiana got only 11 points from Jermaine O’Neal, who sprained his left knee in Game5 and had to have it drained yesterday afternoon. Jamaal Tinsley, playing with an injured left leg, also struggled throughout.

“We’ll see what happens, this series isn’t over,” O’Neal said. “We’ll see what kind of team we have in the next day or so.”

Hamilton, who wears a plastic face mask to protect a nose that was broken twice this season, shot 12-for-22 from the field and 8-for-8 from the line to thoroughly outplay Miller, his opponent at shooting guard who called him “Mini-Me” earlier in the series when describing how Hamilton reminds him of himself.

Indiana was held to just four points in the final 6 minutes of the first quarter, which ended with Detroit ahead 25-17. The Pacers eventually tied it at 33-all before the Hamilton-Miller matchup began taking center stage.

Miller missed a corner jumper that would have put the Pacers ahead, then was called for an odd offensive foul for kicking his leg out while attempting another jumper.

Hamilton scored at the other end, and Miller was livid when he was called for a touch foul that led to a three-point play. Next, Miller stepped on the sideline for a turnover, and referee Steve Javie hit him with a technical foul for arguing as a timeout was called.

Hamilton scored Detroit’s final eight points of the half as the Pistons led 41-36, then opened the third quarter with Detroit’s first two buckets.

“I love these situations,” Hamilton said. “Everybody’s watching, there’s four teams playing, you just want to go out there and have fun.

“Everyone in Detroit’s going to be crazy, and we’re going to feed off of that,” said Hamilton, the only player in the series who has been consistently able to get his shot off.

A three-point play by Hamilton gave Detroit its first double-digit lead, 53-42, and Rasheed Wallace’s 3-pointer — the first field goal in more than 12 minutes by any Detroit player except Hamilton — upped the lead to 15.

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