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Cool despite cold finish

Billups ready to pick up Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Chauncey Billups has earned the nickname Mr. Big Shot.

In each of his five seasons with Detroit, the sturdy point guard made a number of clutch shots late in games to help the Pistons at least reach the Eastern Conference finals.

The 2004 NBA Finals MVP has a knack for making 3-pointers on the fast break or in halfcourt sets, dribbling and bumping his way into the lane for shots.

But Billups seemed to be at his worst when Detroit needed him most in Game 4 against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night, missing all three of his shots in the fourth quarter and having only one assist to go with three turnovers in Cleveland's series-evening 91-87 victory.

He finished with 23 points on 6-of-16 shooting with two assists, five turnovers, and nine rebounds. Good numbers but nothing came late.

"I made a couple bad plays, but that's going to happen. I'm human," Billups said yesterday.

"I know I spoiled y'all, not ever missing at the end of the game, but it's going to happen. It's no big deal."

In the series, Billups is averaging 15.5 points, 4.0 assists, and 5.5 turnovers. He scored about 20 points a game and contributed seven assists with just two turnovers a game in the first two rounds.

Billups, 30, shrugged off his recent struggles and those of his team, heading into tonight's Game 5 at home.

"I don't see the situation as being that bad," he said. "It's 2-2, these are the Eastern Conference finals. We have three games left -- two of them at our place."

James was 4 of 6 from the field and made all five of his free throws in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and his teammates vindicated his decisions to defer.

Rookie Daniel Gibson, playing an increased role because Larry Hughes is injured, scored a season-high 21 points and Drew Gooden had a series-high 19 points.

"It's not just a one-man show," Billups said.

When James does decide to take over, it is a pretty good show.

The 22-year-old was questioned and criticized when he passed up a shot and missed one in the closing seconds of Games 1 and 2 to help Detroit escape.

After averaging 14.5 points and making barely one-third of his shots in the first two games, James answered the hard-to-please crowd when the series shifted to Cleveland.

In Game 3, he scored 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter. He had 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

James has made shots with a high degree of difficulty -- like the fadeaway jumper from the left wing Tuesday night -- that can't be defended.

"You just contest and hope that it doesn't go in," Billups said. "There's nothing you can really do about that, when he's hitting shots like that. You just have to box out and hope it comes off the rim."

In the last three postseasons Detroit, with four of the current starters, advanced in a series despite trailing, 3-2. In each of those series, Detroit rallied because players such as Billups made game-winning shots and stops in the finals minutes.

"We raised the bar so high, especially in late-game-type situations, when we do make the wrong play it sticks out," Billups said. "That's good, though. It let us know what's expected of us.

"It's a tribute to what we've been doing down the stretch for years."