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Updated: Sunday, April 6, 2003 10:54 PM EDT
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San Antonio 89, Detroit 83
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
San Antonio Spurs
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DETROIT PISTONS
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AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- The Detroit Pistons began the game without injured guard Chauncey Billups. They ended it with a far greater injury concern.

All-Star and MVP candidate Ben Wallace went down with a sprained left MCL late in the first half of an 89-83 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, who kept rolling behind 25 points and 21 rebounds from Tim Duncan.

Billups joined backup point guard Chucky Atkins on the sidelines with a twisted ankle, leaving the Pistons without a true floor general or a player to match the quickness of Spurs guards Tony Parker and Speedy Claxton.

Things got much worse with 1:07 left in the first half when Wallace - the NBA's top rebounder and shot-blocker and the anchor of Detroit's dogged defense - went down after rookie teammate Tayshaun Prince fell into his left knee.

Wallace remained on the floor for about two minutes before being helped to the bench. Prince, who tried to take a charge from Parker, was holding a towel to his face to conceal tears, inconsolable that he had destroyed Detroit's postseason hopes.

"I got there a little late," Prince said. "If I had gotten there early, he wouldn't have had to be there. That is why I was very disappointed."

"We felt Tayshaun was in position and took the charge so he certainly isn't to blame," Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. "He felt very badly about falling into Ben, but that's just because he's a great team player. That's the type of guy he is."

The scene was a familiar one to Duncan, who suffered a knee injury late in the 1999-2000 season that forced him to sit out the playoffs. As a result, the defending NBA champion Spurs were bounced in the first round.

"I did mine a different way," he said. "But you still cringe whenever you see somebody go down, especially when I saw his knee buckle a little bit. You've just got to kind of hope for the best and leave it at that."

Wallace needed to be helped to the locker room, where he was diagnosed with a sprain. He will undergo an MRI on Monday, with the Pistons holding their collective breath.

"We will know more tomorrow," Carlisle said. "It is unfortunate to lose him and it looks like we are going to lose him for some games. I'm not sure how many. That is a blow."

Carlisle said Wallace may go on the injured list, with rookie Memhet Okur starting at center Tuesday at Philadelphia and forward Zeljko Rebraca - sidelined most of the season with an irregular heartbeat - possibly activated.

Without Billups or Wallace, the Pistons were not much of a match for the Spurs, who are the hottest team in the NBA. They held off a late rally and improved to 24-4 since the All-Star break, including nine straight road wins.

"We really competed and they were just better," Carlisle said. "They were making shots tonight. Duncan was tremendous and Parker and Claxton had big games."

Parker scored 19 points and Claxton added 16 for San Antonio, which kept the pressure on Dallas for the best record in the NBA. The second-year guards combined to make 17-of-26 shots and hand out nine assists.

"We've been getting better and better these last 20-30 games," Duncan said. "Our confidence is really high right now and we're winning games on the road, which is a big part of what winning games in the playoffs is about, what winning series in the playoffs is about. I feel we're playing very well. We're ready to get the playoffs started."

"I thought Speedy and Tony both played really well tonight," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They had a tough time handling them with the pick-and-rolls in the middle and on the side. I think those two were probably the most important for us in the game tonight, generating offense for us."

Reserves Corliss Williamson and Jon Barry scored 15 points apiece for the Pistons (47-29), who relinquished the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They have lost four of their last five home games and fell one-half game behind New Jersey.

The Spurs made eight of their first nine shots, taking the lead for good at 15-13 on a basket by Duncan midway through the first period and opening a 27-19 bulge after 12 minutes.

The Pistons managed just 12 points in the third quarter, while Duncan had nine to widen the lead to 68-53 entering the final period. Two baskets by Claxton gave San Antonio its largest lead at 72-55 with 10:32 to go.

"Most of the guys that they had on the court probably aren't used to playing against a pick-and-roll, so Pop was calling a lot of pick-and-rolls for me and Tony and we were making the best of them," Claxton said.

Three 3-pointers by Barry helped the Pistons close to 77-72 with 5:08 to go. But Parker answered with a runner in the lane and Malik Rose made four free throws to rebuild the lead to 83-74 with 3:28 left.

Parker had a jumper and runner around a steal by Rose in the final two minutes, keeping the Pistons at bay.

"Down the stretch, I thought Malik and Tony did a great job of taking over the game and finishing up the Pistons," Duncan said. "They were great, got into the middle of the lane, got to the free-throw line, found ways to get it done."

Rose had 14 points and 11 boards for the Spurs, who shot 47 percent (38-of-81) from the field and committed just nine turnovers.

"We're playing pretty well, but still making a lot of mistakes that we hopefully can improve by playoffs," Popovich said. "We've still got a lot of young-type mistakes out there, a lot of inexperience, so we're hoping we can continue to cut them bit by bit."

Richard Hamilton scored 13 points for the Pistons, who shot 39 percent (30-of-77). Despite making just 3-of-17 shots, Hamilton equaled to output of Detroit's other four starters.

Prince and Okur scored 10 and 12 points, respectively.

"Speedy Claxton hit some very tough shots and he was 10 times faster than I was," Prince said. "I tried to give him a lot of space but he was knocking shots down."


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