Detroit Pistons' Richard Hamilton (32) hugs a teammate as Chauncey Billups (1) celebrates at right after they defeated the Miami Heat in game seven of the Eastern Conference finals in Miami, Monday June 6, 2005. The Pistons defeated the Heat 88-82 to advance to the NBA finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
AP Photo/Luis Alvarez
MIAMI Larry Brown walked through the front door of the Detroit Pistons' packed locker room, scanning the celebration with his eyes aglow and his smile wide.
''Where are my guys?'' Brown asked before spotting Lindsey Hunter and telling him he loved him, then working his way to Tayshaun Prince and reaching in for a hand slap.
''That's what we're all about,'' Brown said.
The pressure of Game 7 didn't faze the defending champions not in the slightest.
In a deciding game that stayed close the entire 48 minutes, the Detroit Pistons summoned their experience and played with calmness and poise down the stretch to defeat the Miami Heat 88-82 Monday night in the final game of the Eastern Conference finals.
Now, it's back to the NBA Finals for the team often dismissed as a fluke champion a disparaging label if there ever was one, but one the Pistons can shake with four wins against the San Antonio Spurs.
Dwyane Wade played for Miami after missing Game 6 because of a rib muscle injury, but he was only good for brief stretches. He finished with 20 points but didn't score over the final 15 minutes.
''I couldn't be as athletic as I wanted to be, but I did what I could do,'' Wade said.
Richard Hamilton scored 22 points, Rasheed Wallace added 20 including two foul shots that put Detroit ahead for good with 1:26 remaining and the Pistons closed the game with a 10-3 run to hand Miami yet another heartbreaking Game 7 loss on its home floor.
''That's what we do!'' Hamilton yelled in a jubilant locker room, repeating the phrase over and over, even after he headed to the showers.
Detroit won for the 10th straight time when needing one victory to clinch a series, the second longest such streak behind the Lakers' record 12-game run that ended in 2004. The Pistons also became the first team to win an Eastern Conference finals Game 7 on the road in 23 years. They open the finals Thursday night at San Antonio.
Shaquille O'Neal led Miami with 27 points, but the Heat faltered offensively in the final two minutes with Wade the biggest culprit when he forced up a 20-footer that missed badly with 1:13 left.
Wallace followed with a putback of Prince's miss to make it 82-79, and Detroit went 6-for-6 from the foul line pressure, what pressure? the rest of the way.
''A lot of laughter and shouting,'' Antonio McDyess said of the scene in the Pistons' locker room in the moments after they walked triumphantly off the court. ''I just sat back and sucked it all in.''
Wade scored 12 points in the third quarter, but he was wincing in pain in the game's final minutes. His basket with 3:10 left in the third quarter was his last of the night.
Detroit's victory extended Brown's coaching career for at least four more games, pitting him against his good friend, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, and another dominant big man, Tim Duncan, in the finals. The Pistons and Spurs split their season series 1-1.
''I'm thrilled. It's like a dream come true. Coming from where I come from, Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and now to get the opportunity to play for my second championship at 27, it's a great feeling,'' said Hamilton, who has scored 20 or more points in 16 of the Pistons' 17 postseason games.
Brown was elated as the final seconds ticked down, racing up the sideline to embrace Wallace near midcourt and then sprinting back to his bench to whoop it up a little more.
The sentimental pangs that Brown was experiencing before Game 6 were diminished this time.
''Not so much as the last game,'' Brown said. ''I was home, my family was around. Now, I'm just excited about the opportunity, because these don't come around very much.''
Brown has been with the Pistons for only two seasons, one of the shortest stints of his nomadic coaching career but easily the most successful.
''It's turned out way beyond my wildest dreams,'' Brown said.
Brown will visit the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., soon after Detroit's season ends to address a medical problem that developed after complications from hip surgery. If surgeons are not able to correct it, Brown plans to retire from coaching. Speculation has been rampant that if he leaves Detroit, Brown may join the Cleveland Cavaliers' front office.
Detroit got 18 points from Chauncey Billups and 13 from Prince, proving again that a team effort can be more than enough to defeat two superstars. That's what the Pistons did against O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals last year, and that's what they did against O'Neal and Wade, too.
''There's so much work ahead of us,'' Detroit center Elden Campbell said. ''It's a relief to get past them. It was a tough series.''
Wade was noticeably slow during the game's first few minutes, laboring as he ran at half-speed and missing his first three shots. There was a brief burst midway through the first quarter when Wade started to look more like himself, sprinting downcourt and feeding an alley-oop pass to O'Neal, then hitting a 3-pointer for a 17-9 lead.
Miami led 23-21 after one quarter behind 10 points from O'Neal on 5-for-6 shooting, but the Pistons went ahead early in the second quarter and stayed in front for the rest of the half.
Hamilton was the Pistons' main offensive weapon, shooting 8-for-10 for 16 points, but the Heat pulled to 45-40 at halftime after Eddie Jones hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from midcourt.
Wade was noticeably looser early in the third quarter, knocking down his first two shots and looking to penetrate the lane. But as good as his offense was, Detroit's was just as efficient.
''Anybody in my situation would do the same thing, try to gut it out,'' said Wade, who took a painkilling injection before the game. ''It came down to the end, them making plays. And we didn't.'' Notes: Damon Jones sprained his left ankle in the first quarter but returned before halftime. He scored only one point. ... This was the 91st Game 7 in NBA history. The home team has a 74-17 record. ... The Pistons are 4-4 in Game 7s, while Miami is 2-2.
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