- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Chucky Atkins prevented the Detroit Pistons from facing the most difficult road in the NBA playoffs.

Atkins’ layup with less than a second left was goaltended by Derrick Coleman and gave Detroit a 78-77 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers last night and a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

The home team has won every game in the series and Game6 is tomorrow night in Philadelphia. Game7, if necessary, is Sunday at the Palace.

The Pistons have lost 14 of their last 15 playoff road games.

Allen Iverson missed a long shot as time expired to cap an awful shooting night. Iverson missed 20 of 25 shots and finished with 14 points, one more than his career playoff low.

Eric Snow hit a 3-pointer with 9.4 seconds left to give the 76ers their only lead of the game, 77-76.

Atkins, who started in place of injured Chauncey Billups, took an inbounds pass with 3.7 seconds left and drove the right side for the winning shot that was in the basket when Coleman knocked it out from below with .9 seconds left.

The Sixers trailed by 14 points early in the game, and by as many as seven early in the third quarter.

Before Snow’s basket, it looked like Tayshaun Prince would be a star again.

Detroit’s rookie made a spinning layup with 16.6 seconds left to give the Pistons a 76-74 lead. Prince, who was barely used during the regular season, made a similar shot to force overtime in Game2 before the Pistons won the game in the extra session.

Richard Hamilton had 20 points for Detroit, while Atkins scored 17 and Prince 13.

Coleman scored 23 points, Snow had 16 and Aaron McKie added 10.

“I was trying to make up for a few mistakes I made down the stretch,” Atkins said. “If we want to win this series we have to eliminate mistakes.”

Billups sprained his ankle in Game1, after scoring 101 points in the three previous playoff games.

Iverson was averaging 32.8 points in the playoffs, behind only Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant.

In his previous 10 playoff games, he had scored at least 22 points and led Philadelphia in scoring in each game. Iverson had scored at least 20 points in 22 straight postseason games.

Iverson scored 13 points in the playoffs in 1999 and in 2000.

The game was as exciting as one could be with two teams missing most of their shots.

Detroit shot 39.2 percent and Philadelphia made just 36.7 percent of its shots.

Coleman’s 3-pointer with 4:37 left pulled the 76ers within three for the first time since the opening minute.

Detroit rookie Mehmet Okur answered with a 3-pointer, but Coleman and Snow made four straight free throws to make it 74-72 with 1:22 left.

Iverson forced a turnover then tied the game with a high shot off the glass from the right side with 34 seconds left.

The Sixers made a remarkable comeback after the Pistons started the game as if they feared going to Philadelphia facing elimination.

The Pistons scored the first eight points and led by 14 five minutes into the game.

Atkins was aggressive and effective immediately in place of Billups, who was expected to play following his 23-minute limp-filled performance in Game4.

Detroit coach Rick Carlisle said he didn’t know Billups would be out until just before the game.

Atkins missed the first shot, then without hesitating, he made two straight 3-pointers to spark Detroit’s early burst.

The Pistons led 30-23 after the first quarter.

Early in the second, Jon Barry made Detroit’s sixth 3-pointer — on the team’s ninth attempt — to give the Pistons a 35-23 lead. Corliss Williamson became the ninth Piston to score midway through the quarter to give Detroit another 12-point lead.

Iverson didn’t make his second shot until the final minute of the first half and the Sixers shot 33.3 percent but trailed just 45-36 at halftime.

Snow’s 10 points, McKie’s eight off the bench and a 26-17 rebounding advantage by the reserves prevented Philadelphia from being routed.

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