- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2004

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) [-] A grueling game that took four hours to play and three overtimes to decide could not slow down Richard Jefferson.

He scored 18 of his 31 points after regulation last night to lead the New Jersey Nets to a 127-120 victory over Detroit and a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal.

Detroit’s Chauncey Billups, who scored 31 points, forced the first overtime when he stepped just over halfcourt and hoisted a shot that went off the backboard and in at the buzzer.

Reserve forward Brian Scalabrine had a career-high 17 points and went 4-for-4 from 3-point range for the Nets, including one that gave New Jersey a 122-118 lead with about 40 seconds left in the third overtime.

“I’m not surprised. Basketball players always believe in themselves,” Scalabrine said. “It was just great to be a part of an unbelievable game like this. Every time we went to another OT, and it seemed like there were six of them, I thought, ‘Great! I get to play five more minutes.

It was the fourth playoff game to go three or more overtimes and the first since Phoenix beat Chicago 129-121 in Game 3 of the 1993 finals.

Game 6 is tomorrow night in New Jersey, and if necessary Game 7 will be Thursday back in suburban Detroit.

History is on the Nets’ side.

Out of 115 best-of-7 series that have been tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has advanced 96 times (83 percent).

If the two-time defending Eastern Conference champion Nets win one of the next two games, they will join just seven other teams to win a best-of-7 series after trailing 0-2.

The game was close, unlike the first four.

The Pistons won Games 1 and 2 by a combined 37 points, and New Jersey won the next two by a total of 33. For just the third time in a best-of-7 series, the first four games were decided by 15 points or more.

With four players on each team having fouled out, Scalabrine, a relative unknown, came through for the Nets.

Scalabrine scored a total of six points in the first four games of the series and no more than 16 in his three NBA seasons.

After Jefferson’s three-point play gave New Jersey a six-point lead in the third overtime, the Pistons pulled within one with 1:06 left.

Then Scalabrine made his fourth 3-pointer to give New Jersey the 122-118 lead.

Billups missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game [-] again [-] with 11 seconds left.

Kenyon Martin, who fouled out, had 22 points and nine rebounds. Kidd had 16 points and eight assists and played 57 of 63 minutes. Kerry Kittles scored 20 points, and reserve Lucious Harris added 12.

“This only counts as one win, but it was a special one,” Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. “Our team won this game with will and heart.”

Billups was the only Pistons starter who didn’t foul out.

“There were so many overtimes, I don’t know which overtime was which,” Billups said.

Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince each scored 18 points, while Ben Wallace had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Richard Hamilton had his first playoff double-double with 11 points and 11 assists.

“I’m not drained. I’m proud just to be a part of a game like that,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said. “I’m disappointed that we lost.

“We got to win a game on the road. It’s been done before.”

New Jersey was 42-for-55 from the free throw line, while Detroit was 30-for-42.

Kidd put the Nets ahead 85-84 [-] for the first time in almost six minutes - with 1:09 left on a coast-to-coast drive after corralling a loose ball in front of Detroit’s bench.

After the Pistons missed their ninth and 10th straight shots, Kidd’s two free throws gave the Nets an 87-84 lead with 16 seconds left. Billups forced the first overtime with his banked 45-footer.

Jefferson scored six straight points in the first overtime to put the Nets ahead 96-92 with 2:21 left. Billups’ two free throws put Detroit ahead with 54 seconds left.

Jefferson made one of two free throws with 33 seconds left to tie the game at 99-99, and it stayed that way after both teams failed to make a game-winning shot.

Scalabrine, Kidd and Jefferson made 3-pointers in the span of a little more than a minute to put New Jersey ahead 108-103 with a little more than two minutes left in the second overtime. Kidd was called for a five-second violation with 1:10 left, giving Detroit another chance.

Billups’ two free throws put the Pistons ahead - for the first time in the second overtime - 111-110.

Jefferson’s free throw tied it with 29 seconds left after Scalabrine hustled after a loose ball, preventing it from going out of bounds, and got it to Kidd.

Jefferson scored 59 points as New Jersey won Games 3 and 4 at home but had just seven points after the third quarter. One game after his seventh career playoff triple-double, Kidd started the fourth quarter with nine points on 2-for-8 shooting, two assists, three turnovers and three rebounds.

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