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Pistons advance to Eastern finals, end Bulls' playoff run

May 18, 2007 - 5:58 AM CHICAGO (Ticker) -- Richard Hamilton and the Detroit Pistons weren't going to let two straight losses derail their mission of reaching another Eastern Conference final.

Hamilton scored 23 points and Chauncey Billups added 21 and seven assists to help the Pistons advance to the conference finals for the fifth straight season with a 95-85 triumph over the Chicago Bulls on Thursday.

"I needed to step up and hit some shots," Hamilton said. "Chauncey did a nice job of getting me the ball when I was open, then I was able to knock them down."

Tayshaun Prince had 17 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, and Rasheed Wallace added 16 and 13 rebounds for Detroit, which held Chicago to just 33 percent shooting (12-of-36) in the second half, including just six field goals in the fourth quarter.

The Pistons will face either second-seeded Cleveland or sixth-seeded New Jersey in the conference finals. The Nets host the Cavaliers in Game Six Friday.

"Going to the conference finals doesn't mean nothing because we have only one championship," Wallace said. "We want to win the big trophy."

"The conference finals are nice but we want to go all the way," Hamilton added.

Hamilton shot 9-of-18 from the floor and Billups was a perfect 14-of-14 from the foul line for Detroit, which shot 42 percent (32-of-76) and was up 3-0 in the series before dropping the last two games by an average of 15.5 points.

"Give the Bulls credit, they were down 3-0 and fought back to make it a tough series," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said.

"We got off to a bad start by going down 3-0 in this series, that's what killed us," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "Bottom line is that they advance and we go home."

The Pistons had to overcome Bulls forward P.J. Brown, who tied his playoff career-high with 20 points.

"Tonight it was all about just helping my team win," Brown said.

The 14-year veteran, who's appeared in 81 playoff games, also had 20 vs. the Orlando Magic on May 1, 1997, when he was a member of the Miami Heat.

After averaging 7.4 points in the first five games, Brown tallied all of his points on 7-of-12 shooting in the first half. He missed his three attempts after halftime.

"They really charged at me in the second half and didn't give me the open looks I had in the first," Brown said.

With the Pistons leading, 74-69, entering the final quarter, Prince scored six of the team's first seven points, including a 10-foot hook shot with 5:56 left for an 81-72 lead.

Detroit held an 85-78 lead with 1:07 left before Billups made six free throws and Hamilton added three to seal it for the Pistons, who never let the Bulls get closer than six points the rest of the way.

"I thought we were battled tested through our first seven games," Prince said. "Then they came back and won those two games and that toughened us even more. Those two games made it important that we make a statement tonight and put Chicago away."

Trailing, 48-43, to start the third quarter, the Pistons used a 12-1 run capped by a 3-pointer by Prince at the 3:37 mark to take a 55-49 lead.

"Right at the start of the second half we let up," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "We did not have the same juice we had in the first half. They established themselves in those first four minutes and we did not have an answer."

Wallace had five points in the spurt.

"We were very disappointed with how we played in the first half," Billups said. "The Bulls were aggressive and outplayed us. Then in the second half we stepped up our game."

A 3-pointer by Ben Gordon with 1:23 left cut the Bulls' deficit to 73-69 before reserve Jason Maxiell split a pair of free throws to help Detroit end the third quarter up, 74-69.

Gordon scored 19 points and Luol Deng 17 for Chicago, which lost two of three home games in this round.

"They did a great job defensively and challenged the shots we had," Deng said. "They pick-and-roll very well and made some great adjustments from the last game."

Hinrich had 11 points and 11 assists for the Bulls, who shot just 37 percent (28-of-75) after connecting on 53 percent in their wins in Games Four and Five.

Chicago, which made just 5-of-18 3-pointers, failed to shoot better than 37 percent in all four of its losses.

"In a seven-game series, the best team wins," Skiles said. "They are the best team right now and deserved to win. I have to give them the credit."

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