- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Rasheed Wallace made another loud statement, only this time he did it during the game instead of before or after it.

Playing his best offensive game in a month, Wallace scored 20 points last night and left to a standing ovation as the Detroit Pistons controlled the game with their defense and defeated the Indiana Pacers 85-78.

The victory gave the Pistons a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference finals. Game 4 is tomorrow night.

Wallace has been the most bombastic character in a series in need of some spunk given the offensive ineptitude both teams have shown for long — excruciatingly long, some might say — stretches.

After guaranteeing a Game 2 victory, he rubbed it in with an expletive-filled rant directed at Pacers fans as he walked off the court following that game.

Wallace had scored a total of 14 points in the first two games while missing 21 of 26 shots, but his offensive woes disappeared at the arena he has called home since mid-February.

He shot 8-for-15 to share team-high scoring honors with Richard Hamilton, who reached 20 points for the 25th time in 32 career playoff games.

“We have a bigger goal … that’s to win the NBA championship,” Wallace said.

Ben Wallace added 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting and 16 rebounds and Chauncey Billups scored 14 points with eight assists for the Pistons, who allowed the Pacers to score more points in the fourth quarter (33) than they had in the entire first half (30).

An almost unwatchable game suddenly turned interesting as Austin Croshere drove past Rasheed Wallace for a dunk that capped a 10-0 run and cut Detroit’s lead to 76-75.

On the next possession, Wallace got the ball in the low post isolated against Croshere and made a turnaround 6-footer. He was fouled on the play and made the free throw to reach 20 points and give Detroit some breathing room.

Reggie Miller got open but missed a 3, then fouled Tayshaun Prince while trying to defend him one-on-one on a post-up. Prince made one of two free throws before Al Harrington knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 80-78 with 49 seconds left.

Rasheed Wallace then attempted an inside shot that bounced twice on the rim before falling off, and Ben Wallace was right there to grab it and put it in. Harrington attempted a 3-pointer from the corner, but Rasheed Wallace got a hand on it and Detroit rebounded with 18 seconds remaining to sew up the win.

Jermaine O’Neal had 24 points to lead Indiana.

The teams flirted with the playoff-record low of 130 combined points until making 34 trips to the free throw line in the final quarter.

One indication of the early ugliness: The Pistons had 10 turnovers and nine points in second quarter.

The Pacers had spent Monday working on their offense at practice, though it was hard to find anything that had been improved. They had a woeful lack of movement on offense, and they began the game hoisting and missing long jumpers.

A jumper by Rasheed Wallace gave Detroit its first double-digit lead, 21-10, and Wallace took advantage of a missed defensive assignment with an emphatic dunk off an entry pass from Mike James for a 25-12 lead.

But coach Larry Brown soon rested his starters, and Detroit missed its first seven shots and committed five turnovers in the first seven minutes of the second quarter. A foul shot by Billups ended a nearly eight-minute scoring drought in which the Pacers climbed back within a point thanks to a 12-0 run.

The Pistons led 36-30 at halftime after being outscored 16-9 in the second quarter, but they quickly reopened a comfortable lead in the third quarter.

Rasheed Wallace converted a 3-footer with his left hand, then came outside for a 19-footer that gave Detroit a 49-37 lead.

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