The Detroit Pistons used their experience to pull ahead and the clock to stay there.
Isiah Thomas scored 32 points, including 22 in the third quarter and four in the last 26 seconds, and Joe Dumars scored 26 as the battle-hardened Pistons held on for a 112-109 victory and a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.The win was not secure until after the buzzer, however, as a 3-point shot by reserve guard Danny Young was disallowed because it was still in his hand when time expired.
Before that, the Pistons used the experience of three straight trips to the championship series to pull ahead.
"We have a lot of big-time players, and we kept our composure down the stretch," said Vinnie Johnson, who scored 20 points. "You learn from experience."
"We've been through a lot of tough situations in the last couple of years," Thomas said. "There was the sixth game against the Lakers (in 1988) and against the Celtics. We were in another tough situation here."
Thomas' big third quarter, which included four 3-pointers, gave the defending champions an 81-65 lead late in the period. But the Trail Blazers came back quickly, and there were eight lead changes in the fourth quarter before Thomas' bank shot with 26 seconds left gave the Pistons the lead for good at 108-107. His free throws with 8.4 seconds to go made it a three-point lead.
After Terry Porter made it 110-109 with a pair of free throws two seconds later, Gerald Henderson scored on a breakaway with 1.3 seconds left.
Portland hurried the ball upcourt and Young took his shot, but the officials, after several seconds' discussion, ruled the ball was released too late. Replays confirmed the decision.
"A decision should be made immediately whether it's good," Portland Coach Rick Adelman said. "One said it was good, the other said no. They were so shocked, I don't think they or the Pistons were prepared for it.
"But you don't discuss it, you make the decision."
Dumars, whose father died in Louisiana on Sunday, missed five of his first six shots, but came on strong, hitting all six of his free throws down the stretch. He plans to fly to Natchitoches, La., after Thursday's game, attend the funeral on Saturday and return in time for Sunday's Game 6 in Michigan, if it's necessary.
"Dumars is a strong individual, and he handled things very well," Pistons coach Chuck Daly said. "In the second quarter, he was running the show."
"Joe played with a lot of heart," Pistons forward John Salley said. "He has the biggest heart I've ever seen."
Thomas' third quarter gave them an 81-65 lead with 2:16 left in the period.
"Isiah was a very confident shooter," Daly said. "He was running, penetrating, the whole show."
Portland, which got 34 points from Clyde Drexler and 33 from Jerome Kersey, responded with an 8-0 run to close the gap to eight, then rallied further in the fourth quarter, taking the lead on a baseline jumper by Porter with 5:21 to play. The lead changed hands five times before Dumars hit two free throws to make it 98-97 with 3:47 to go.
The Pistons stayed in front until Drexler, who was 14-for-19 from the field, made two free throws with 31 seconds for a 107-106 lead.
Porter then lost control driving to the basket and Thomas was fouled.
The victory, Detroit's second straight in Portland after temporarily losing the homecourt advantage in Game 2, put the Pistons in a commanding position to win their second consecutive NBA title. That feat has been accomplished previously only by the Minneapolis-Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.
No team has ever failed to win the championship after taking a 3-1 lead in the finals.