NEW JERSEY 88, DETROIT 86 -------------------------
AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- Kenyon Martin got the New Jersey Nets back in the game and Richard Jefferson won it.
Martin scored 16 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and Jefferson made three clutch free throws in the final 80 seconds as the Nets rallied for an 88-86 victory over the Detroit Pistons and a commanding lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
The second-seeded Nets have won the first two games of the series on the home court of the top-seeded Pistons by a combined four points and host the next two games Thursday and Saturday. They are two wins away from a return trip to the NBA Finals.
"To go home with a 2-0 lead and have a chance to win the next two at home, we feel pretty good about ourselves," Nets coach Byron Scott said.
New Jersey has won eight straight playoff games, the third-longest streak in NBA history. Five of those have come on the road, where it is 6-1 in the postseason.
Martin was relatively quiet through the first three quarters but took charge in the final period. He scored 10 straight New Jersey points early in the quarter, had a pair of baskets to cut the deficit to 79-76 midway through the period and threw in a jump hook that pulled the Nets into an 83-83 tie with 3:14 remaining.
"Whether it's in the regular season or postseason, I approach every game the same - wanting to get better, wanting to get my team a win," Martin said. "I didn't have a great three quarters, so I just wanted to come out in the fourth quarter, just be aggressive and attack the rim. I got a couple of calls, a couple of shots fell for me and it got my team back in the game and put us in a position to win."
"Kenyon was fantastic out there," Scott added. "I kept trying some real NBA sets just to get him the ball in the post and he came up big, no matter who they put on him. He was unbelievable in the fourth quarter."
Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd - both of whom figured in the finish - traded baskets before Jefferson was fouled trying a fast-break reverse dunk with 1:18 left. He made 1-of-2 free throws to give New Jersey its first lead of the period.
Detroit's Corliss Williamson split a pair from the line to tie it 11 seconds later, but Jefferson got Williamson in the air with a headfake and drew another foul. He calmly sank both shots, making it 88-86 with 48 seconds to play.
"RJ got taken out of the game early because of fouls and he never really got into a rhythm, but he was there in the fourth," Scott said. "He is steadily becoming a go-to guy."
It was a bit of redemption for Jefferson, who missed clutch free throws in the playoffs against Indiana last year and against Milwaukee this year.
"You don't really think about it," he said. "You just go up there and you just knock them down. Again, if I would have been worried about that, I wouldn't have taken a shot. If I would have been worried about that, I wouldn't have tried to get the contact to get to the free throw line. Every game is different, every free throw's different, you just have to have confidence and go knock it down."
Williamson and Kidd each missed shots, leaving the Pistons one last chance with 1.8 seconds left.
Billups took the inbounds pass above the circle and faked a shot, getting Kidd into the air. But Kidd landed without making contact with Billups, who leaned into Kidd trying to draw a foul while misfiring badly on his shot at the horn.
"He was going to have to shoot it over me," Kidd said. "He's taking a tough shot, you tip your hat if he makes it and if he doesn't, then we walk away with a win. I don't jump high anyway, so to pump-fake me, maybe that's a good thing."
"I thought he pressed into me with his body a little bit, but they didn't call it, so I guess it wasn't a foul," Billups said. "It shouldn't matter what time of the game it is - a foul is a foul."
Pistons coach Rick Carlisle thought the game had gotten away from him team long before the last shot.
"It shouldn't come down to a last play when you've got a lead in the fourth like we did," Carlisle said. "We made too many careless mistakes coming down the stretch. Turnovers, defensive mistakes, a technical foul, things that you simply can't do playing at this level of the playoffs."
Kidd scored 20 points and Jason Collins added 11 and 14 rebounds for the Nets. Kidd won Game One with a last-second jumper and saved Game Two with a big defensive play.
"Jason has just been terrific for us," Scott said. "He has made two unbelievable plays to win these two games for us, one on each end of the floor. He might not have a great shooting percentage, but he's hitting timely shots and made some key defensive plays."
"Whether it's a stop, steal, rebound, whatever it is, he always makes the big play that we need," Martin added. "That's the sign of a true leader, a true champion, a true warrior. I'll go to war with him anyday."
Richard Hamilton scored 24 points and Billups added 15 and 10 assists for the Pistons, who have played their way into a virtually bottomless hole. Just seven teams have won series after losing the first two games, and only two have done it after losing the first two at home.
"Twice, the ball bounced our way at the end of the game," Jefferson said. "That's really all you can say. We feel fortunate to get out of here with two victories. We know the games in New Jersey are going to be even tougher because they're really fighting for their lives."
"It's very disappointing to come away with a loss at home for a second consecutive night, because we really had the game under control headed into the fourth quarter," Carlisle said.
A third-quarter surge powered by Hamilton helped Detroit take a 67-58 lead into the final period. His baseline floater gave the Pistons their largest lead before Martin went to work.
Martin had a three-point play, a banker, another three-point play and two free throws to make it 74-70 with 8:08 left. He made a follow shot and breakaway dunk before a technical foul shot by Lucious Harris pulled the Nets within 79-77 with 6:04 to go.
"I just kept attacking the rim," Martin said. "I got some calls, I got some and-ones. I knocked down my free throws when I needed to."
"We were down 10 points again in the fourth quarter and we had to step up our offense," Harris said. "(Martin) came through big for us. He was unbelievable."
Williamson scored inside, but Kidd made a free throw, then turned an off-balance shot into a three-point play that tied it, 81-81, with 3:53 remaining. Hamilton got into the lane for a short jumper, but Martin answered with a jump hook.
"He put us all on his back and carried us and we rode him," Kidd said. "We rode the horse. As young as 'K' is, he's grown at a fast pace and he's shown me so much. That's just the way 'K' is. He'll carry the whole team if he has the opportunity."
The Nets shot under 40 percent (33-of-84), attempted 10 fewer free throws and committed 15 turnovers. But they stayed in it with a 51-36 edge on the boards, including 19-7 on the offensive end.
"We could have very easily been on the other side of both of these games. That's what makes this so frustrating," Pistons guard Jon Barry said. "When you lose by two points, it is second-chance points that make the difference. We did a nice job on them on the break, but they killed us on the boards."
Cliff Robinson scored 11 points and Williamson added 10 for the Pistons, who shot 43 percent (29-of-68). Wallace had 19 rebounds and four blocks.
Carlisle started Tayshaun Prince in place of Michael Curry, but the move did not pay huge dividends. New Jersey trailed just 42-39 at halftime and took a 44-42 lead on a three-point play by Collins less than two minutes into the third quarter.
Hamilton started and ended an 11-2 run with jumpers - adding a basket in between - to give Detroit a 53-46 lead midway through the period. A 3-pointer by Billups pushed the advantage to 58-48 with 4:38 to play.