Nets put Pistons in 3-0 fix

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. After two games cooped up in low-scoring drudgery, the New Jersey Nets felt oh-so-good to get running again.

And run they did. Led by Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin, the Nets turned a 32-4 advantage in fast-break points into a 97-85 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday to move within one win of a sweep in the Eastern Conference finals.

''We played their game up there. We wanted to play our game at home,'' said Martin, who scored 19 points. ''The games up there were too close, and we wanted to come up here and get a little distance between us and them. We did a great job of that early. We didn't look back from there.''

Dominant at both ends, Kidd scored a career playoff-high 34 points, making 11 of 21 shots and 11 of 13 free throws. He also had 12 rebounds, six assists and four steals, and he heard chants of ''M-V-P! M-V-P!'' as he shot free throws in the fourth quarter.

''It felt good to get out and get some easy baskets,'' Kidd said. ''We got our hands on a lot of balls, and we got a lot of rebounds that led to fast breaks. Anytime you can do that, the basket gets bigger.''

The Nets sputtered before winning the first two games of the series by two points apiece with fourth-quarter rallies, with the scores in the 70s and 80s. The defending conference champions have won nine straight playoff games and can close out their second straight sweep Saturday night when they host Game 4.

''It's what we talked about all season long getting back to the finals, having a chance to win the championship,'' coach Byron Scott said. ''We thought about this in October, when training camp started. We haven't got there yet, but we're one game away.''

Richard Hamilton scored 21 points but only six in the second half to lead the Pistons, who now must attempt to become the first team in NBA history to come back from 3-0 down to win a series.

''We've got to play as a team,'' said center Ben Wallace, who had 15 rebounds. ''We came into this series as a team. We went through struggles as a team. Right now we're not playing team basketball.''

Martin scored 14 points in the first quarter, when New Jersey took the lead for good. Kidd scored 15 of New Jersey's 19 points and had two steals during a 9 1/2-minute stretch starting late in the second quarter.

Desperate to find a winning formula, Carlisle benched struggling starters Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince for much of the second half, but there was no solution for 18 turnovers, a 50-39 rebounding deficit and a fast Nets team that seemed to have its hands everywhere.

''I'm not going to take anything from there,'' forward Clifford Robinson said. ''But we haven't played well, and they have.''

Only a few pingpong balls kept the night from being a total loss for the Pistons, who won the No. 2 overall pick in the draft lottery held just before tipoff. The pick comes from a 1997 trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, who would have kept the selection had it been No. 1.

The Detroit took an early 13-6 lead, but then Martin along with the Nets' fast break turned the tide quickly.

An airball by Billups turned into a 3-on-1 break and a three-point play for Martin, and Martin's block of Billups' jumper created another 3-on-1, with Richard Jefferson finishing it off with a layup. Martin also stripped Robinson of the ball to start another break, and before long the Nets had the lead for good after an 11-2 run.

Kidd's 3-pointer in the final seconds put New Jersey up 28-23 going into the second quarter, and the Nets kept up the pace with jump shots from reserves Anthony Johnson and Lucious Harris to push the lead to 12.

Martin came back and made two memorable plays, converting an alley-oop after Aaron Williams fought to win an offensive rebound, and spinning for a reverse layup while drawing a foul on Corliss Williamson.

Detroit made 14 of 17 free throws in the second period to stay in the game, but Kidd blew past Billups and made a layup over Wallace as the half ended to put the Nets ahead 57-46.

The third quarter was mostly Kidd, who had two steals and layups and eight points in the first four minutes. Jefferson's breakaway dunk increased the lead to 17, and the Pistons' sagging body language told the rest of the story.

Detroit didn't get closer than 14 points the rest of the way, until Robinson hit an anticlimactic 3-pointer in the final two minutes.

''We've put ourselves in a great position,'' Martin said. ''We don't want to prolong this thing. We want to take care of it on Saturday.''

Notes: The Nets' nine-game playoff winning streak is the fourth-longest all-time, tying them with the 1996 Bulls and 1982 Lakers. The record is 12 by the Spurs in 1999. ... The Pistons have lost 15 of 17 playoff games on the road. ... Billups, still recovering from an ankle sprained in the Philadelphia series, was 3-for-7 and scored seven points. He is 10-for-32 with eight turnovers in the series. ... The Nets sold out their arena for only the second time in six postseason home games, but they're 5-1 in their building. ''You go into Boston, Milwaukee, Detroit, you have these unbelievable places that everyone's just all crazy and fired up,'' Jefferson said. ''It's not like that in New Jersey. Maybe that catches people off guard.'' ... Martin got a technical in the second quarter for grabbing his jersey in a celebratory gesture. It's something he's done many times before, but this time it seemed to be interpreted as a taunt.

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