SAN ANTONIO – The identity of the next NBA champion will not be known for another two days — not until Game 7 of a suddenly suspenseful series is over.
Chauncey Billups (search), Richard Hamilton and the Detroit Pistons (search) weren't ready to concede their title, and Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs (search) weren't quite good enough to earn it Tuesday night.
Behind the scoring of their guards and several clutch plays from foul-plagued Rasheed Wallace down the stretch, the defending champions displayed the resiliency they've become known for as they defeated San Antonio 95-86 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals (search) to send the championship series will to a winner-take-all game for the first time since 1994.
Billups made five of the Pistons' eight 3-pointers as they matched their long-range output from the first five games combined. Billups scored 21, Hamilton had 23 and Wallace 16 for the Pistons, who played at their peak despite being on the brink of elimination — just as they did in the Eastern Conference finals against Miami earlier this month.
Coach Larry Brown (search) won an NBA playoff game for the 100th time as an NBA coach, breaking a tie with Red Auerbach for third-most in league history, shaking hands with and hugging Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (search) as the game ended.
There were 23 lead changes and seven ties in the first three quarters before Detroit built a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter and stayed ahead the rest of the way, handing the Spurs just their sixth home loss in 51 games at the SBC Center this season.
Now, the Pistons will have to try to become the first team in finals history to win the last two games on the road. But given what they've done over the past two seasons, refusing to quit when circumstances are most dire, they have to be considered a legitimate candidate to make a little more history.
"We can fight any odds," Wallace said. "You know, a lot of people thought we were going to be out tonight, but — they had their Cristal ready and all that stuff, but — hey, we're going to pop it Thursday."
Once again, ball control was one of the key factors as Detroit committed just five turnovers against 19 assists. Billups played brilliantly for the second straight game, and Hamilton was not affected by the tight defense of Bruce Bowen.
"We're just tough as nails," Billups said. "Our motto is, 'If it ain't rough, it ain't right.' We always make it tough on ourselves, but we always find a way to climb out of that foxhole."
Duncan had 21 points and 15 rebounds, but the Spurs' offense rarely ran though him as it normally does so fluidly. Manu Ginobili also scored 21 for San Antonio, which was outscored 24-19 in the fourth quarter.
The Pistons were looking everywhere they could for motivation. A sign on the greaseboard in Detroit's locker room read: "San Antonio's parade is scheduled for Thursday!!!, and Detroit forward Darvin Ham yelled: "Anybody want Cristal? They just brought four cases to their locker room."
But the Pistons probably didn't need any extra reason to push harder: Time and again, they've proven their pride is enough to fuel their fury.
"Not today. Not tonight. Not today. Not tonight," Billups was overheard saying as he walked to the locker room after the game.
The early part of the third quarter hammered home the point that the Spurs would only get as far as Ginobili, not Duncan, would take them. Ginobili was as aggressive going to the basket as he had been in Games 1 and 2, while Duncan was having difficulty freeing himself from the double-teams that he rarely saw in the first five games.
Even when he got the ball in single coverage outside, he was not in position to use his best moves. Absent the usual contributions from the two-time finals MVP, the Spurs were almost a one-man team.
As for the Pistons, their offense continued to come from the clutch long-range shooting of Billups and the mid-range game of Hamilton. Billups was 6-for-13 from the field for 21 points and Hamilton was 8-of-16 for 19 points when the third quarter ended with the Pistons ahead 71-67.
A three-point play by Antonio McDyess to open the fourth quarter made it 74-67 — the largest lead for either team to that point, and Detroit stayed ahead from there.
San Antonio shot almost 53 percent in the first quarter but committed four turnovers leading to seven points, a big reason why the period ended in a 23-23 tie. Detroit made its first five shots of the second quarter to take a 35-32 lead before the game grew testy.
First, Rasheed Wallace was called for a dead ball foul by referee Bernie Fryer, who initially signaled Pistons' ball. Billups drew a technical foul for arguing, and Brent Barry made three foul shots to tie it.
Wallace and Duncan each complained vehemently over the next two foul calls — one on each of them — and Pistons coach Larry Brown was hit with a technical, strangely enough, after the call on Duncan.
Things calmed down and got a little sloppy over the rest of the quarter, and the Spurs walked off with a 47-46 lead at intermission behind 12 points from Ginobili and 10 from Parker.
Notes:@ Hamilton was irate after Bowen swiped at him and knocked off his face mask immediately after a whistle blew midway through the fourth quarter. Hamilton decided to fling the mask aside and play without it. ... The Pistons previous win in San Antonio was on April 2, 1997 ... Detroit is 7-0 in the 2005 playoffs when Wallace scores more than 15 points in a game; 6-6 when he scores 15 or less. This was his first performance of more than 15 points in this year's finals. Since joining the Pistons, he has never been held to 15 points or less in six consecutive games.