INDIANAPOLIS – Tayshaun Prince was several steps behind Reggie Miller as the play of the game unfolded in the game’s final seconds.
The Indiana Pacers had just come up with a steal, and Miller was about to drop in a game-tying breakaway layup.
One stunning leap later, everything changed.
Prince sprinted in from midcourt and made a perfectly timed block to put a finishing flourish on another dominant defensive display as the Detroit Pistons defeated the Indiana Pacers 72-67 Monday night to even the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece.
“In that situation, a two-point game, I’ve just got to make a play on the ball,” Prince said. “Before I got there I knew it was going to be a tough play, but once I put my hand on the ball it was a good block.
“He slowed up just a little bit at the last second and gave me time to get there.”
The block was the 19th of the game for the Pistons, one shy of the NBA playoff record set by Philadelphia in 1981.
And in a series that doesn’t figure to feature very much offense, it was fitting that Game 2’s defining moment came on a play that kept the ball from going through the basket.
Miller made four straight free throws to cut a six-point deficit to 69-67, and it appeared he was about to tie it after Jermaine O’Neal blocked a dunk attempt by Rasheed Wallace and Jamaal Tinsley stole the ball from Chauncey Billups to start a breakaway.
“I saw him in my rearview mirror,” Miller said. “In hindsight, I should have dunked it, but I thought I had a few steps on him.”
Prince landed several rows deep in the stands after his block, and it took him a minute to get up. After he did, Richard Hamilton made two free throws for a four-point lead with 14.6 seconds remaining that all but clinched it.
Hamilton scored 13 of the Pistons’ final 15 points and finished with 23.
“Tay gets one of those about once every four games,” Hamilton said. “I said to myself: ‘Reggie better dunk it, because if he doesn’t dunk it Tay is going to get it.’ “
The loss was the Pacers’ first at home since March 19, snapping a streak of 14 consecutive victories at Conseco Fieldhouse. The best-of-7 series moves to Auburn Hills for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Friday.
Miller scored 21 points and O’Neal had 16 to lead Indiana, which shot only 27.5 percent and was held to three field goals in the fourth quarter.
Detroit had only four baskets in the fourth quarter but scored nine points at the foul line. Rasheed Wallace shot just 4 for 19 and scored 10 points but made his biggest contribution at the other end, blocking five shots and grabbing eight defensive rebounds.
Wallace, who had guaranteed a victory, yelled “I told you so” at the Indiana fans as he walked off.
Prince and Ben Wallace each blocked three shots and Elden Campbell added three. Billups shot just 1 for 7 with five turnovers but came up with five of Detroit’s 10 steals.
“Detroit comes at you with a different level of length, athleticism and angularity,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “We couldn’t get enough done at either end.”
Rasheed Wallace finally found his touch midway through the third quarter after he had missed 11 of 12 shots. His three straight baskets gave Detroit a 51-49 lead with 5:46 remaining. Detroit, however, did not have another field goal until Hamilton scored with 2.8 seconds remaining to put the Pistons ahead 55-54 entering the fourth quarter.
Consecutive baskets by Hamilton – the first coming on a super-rare fast break — put the Pistons ahead 63-59, and a missed 3 by Miller was followed by Hamilton’s 15-foot pull-up for a six-point lead.
Indiana was able to pull within two, but the Pacers’ next three possessions ended in two turnovers and an airball, and Hamilton made two from the line with 1:38 left for a 69-63 lead.
“Not enough stops, not enough scores. Now we’re going to have to bounce back,” Carlisle said.
The first quarter was an exercise in offensive futility, the Pistons missing 13 of their first 15 shots and half of their eight free throws. Rasheed Wallace was razzed by the fans after shooting an airball from 19 feet, and he responded with a “bring it on” gesture as he went to the bench with the Pistons trailing 15-6.
Both teams eventually picked up the scoring pace, and O’Neal’s 16 points and Miller’s 15 helped the Pacers to a 43-37 halftime lead.
Pacers F Al Harrington, bothered by a bruised sternum and twisted ankle, missed all four of his shots… . Before the game, Harrington raised eyebrows among his teammates when he rolled into the arena in a brand new Rolls Royce. Austin Croshere joked that the Pacers must have the highest car value per player ratio in the league. O’Neal said he bought a similar model for $329,000, which prompted Miller to ask, “What, does it talk to you?”
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