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Billups comes up big as Pistons edge Cavaliers

Apr 8, 2007 - 9:26 PM AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- After watching his teammates surrender a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, Chauncey Billups decided to do something about it.

Billups made a series of clutch shots and plays in the final three minutes as the Detroit Pistons regrouped for an 87-82 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers that kept them securely atop the Eastern Conference.

Richard Hamilton scored 21 points to lead a balanced attack for the Pistons (49-27), who moved 3 1/2 games in front of Chicago (46-31) and four ahead of Cleveland (46-32) in the race for the Central Division title and best record in the East.

"I never was feeling threatened (by Cleveland or Chicago)," Billups said. "I never was threatened, really. Obviously, we haven't locked it up and it will probably be a few more wins down the road, but I never was threatened by it."

"We don't care about clinching no conference. All that's hearsay," Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace said. "We're just worried about making sure we've got things together so we can get this 'ship (championship). That's the more important thing. That supersedes any best record in the East, any conference titles, even the Eastern Conference title. Getting that 'ship, it supersedes all that."

With just six games remaining, Detroit appears to have pulled clear of the rest of the conference. But it may have been feeling some pressure had Billups not saved his best for the game's biggest moments, as he has throughout his career. He scored six of his 14 points down the stretch and added 12 assists.

"I could just see us kind of bogging down a little bit and I just wanted to try to be aggressive and make plays, whether it was shooting or getting in there and opening something up for somebody else," Billups said.

A jumper by Zydrunas Ilgauskas - Cleveland's last basket - opened an 80-78 lead with 3:11 to play. Billups responded with consecutive jumpers from almost the identical spot on the left baseline.

After two free throws by LeBron James tied it for the last time at the 1:42 mark, Billups baited the lumbering Ilgauskas into a foul on a pick-and-roll. His two free throws gave Detroit the lead for good with 1:29 left.

"We started going high pick-and-roll," Billups said. "It's a tough play to guard because you've got either C-Webb (Chris Webber) or Dice (Antonio McDyess) setting it. They're rolling, you've got to respect that, and you've got Sheed (Wallace) on the throwback and you've got me coming off trying to attack, so it's a tough play to defend."

Ilgauskas missed a jumper, and Billups drove and dished to McDyess for a dunk and an 86-82 lead with 45 seconds remaining. After James missed a pair from the line, he hooked up again with McDyess, who was fouled and split the free throws for the final margin.

"They call him 'Big Shot Billups' for a reason," James said. "He hit a couple shots, had a couple assists and got a veteran call against Z on the pick-and-roll to get a couple free throws."

McDyess, starting for Wallace, had 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Tayshaun Prince scored 12 points, Webber added 11 and 10 boards and Wallace had 10 points.

"I just had to prepare myself mentally as in when I step on the court I was going to go out there and be a lot more aggressive and not just wait," said McDyess, one of the top reserves in the NBA. "So I just tried to be aggressive and go to the goal and get myself loose."

"I didn't miss no practice so I don't know what it was for," said Wallace, who was benched earlier this season for a late arrival to a practice. "I'm cool. I'm cooler than a fan. I was out there. I'm cooler than a fan."

The Pistons also did a solid job on James, who scored 20 points but had as many turnovers as baskets, making just 5-of-16 shots. He scored 41 points in an overtime win here March 7.

"I thought our defense was great on everybody," Billups said. "You make other guys beat you and not LeBron. We know he can beat you, so trap him, change defenses up, don't show him the same thing (for) four quarters. Tay's length bothered him, I thought, on some of his shots."

"At times, we did a great job of reacting to the double-team, and at times we didn't," James said. "That's a great team, and you can't have any lapses on defense or on offense."

The Cavaliers trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half but pecked away and closed to 64-58 entering the final period. However, Wallace opened the fourth quarter with two free throws and a bucket for a double-digit bulge.

Three-point plays by Sasha Pavlovic and Eric Snow and a 3-pointer by James helped Cleveland close the deficit to 72-69 with just under nine minutes left. The Cavs finally caught the Pistons at 78-78 on a jumper by Larry Hughes with 3:47 left.

"I want 82 close games," Billups said. "You're not going to win them all, but I would rather that. It just makes the game interesting. There's a lot of pressure in those situations. I think our team is at our best in those situations."

Ilgauskas scored 15 points for Cleveland, which fell into fifth place in the East.

"We had too many mistakes - mental errors and turnovers," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "We had breakdowns throughout the game. In the last couple minutes, they did a nice job of executing and we didn't. You can't give away points and opportunities in this league."

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