New Jersey Nets forward Kenyon Martin has the words “never satisfied” tattooed in Chinese on his left forearm.
He added the adornment in college and he has lived by those words, on the basketball court and off, ever since.
“It fits our mind-set in this series,” Martin said.
With a chip on their shoulder and a streak of greed in their hearts, the Nets rallied in the fourth quarter to hand the Detroit Pistons a crushing 88-86 defeat to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-seven National Basketball Association Eastern Conference championship playoff series.
The Nets overcame an 11-point deficit early in the fourth quarter and, for the second straight game, refused to allow Detroit to score on a final, crucial possession.
The Nets said they came to Detroit to steal not one but two victories, and that’s exactly what they did. They now face the prospect of being able to sweep the series if they can win Games 3 and 4 on their home court Thursday and Saturday.
The unwavering Nets, who have won eight straight playoff games, are turning the Eastern playoffs into a solo act.
“The one thing we showed in the fourth quarter was a lot of heart,” New Jersey coach Byron Scott said. “We were down for the second straight game and the guys never gave up.
“Being 2-0 is a great achievement. To come here and win both games and to have the next two at home, we obviously feel pretty good about where we are.”
Said Martin: “For us to fight back, that’s the no-quit attitude I’ve been talking about. Just leave it all on the court and whatever happens, happens.”
Martin was asked whether the Nets could sweep the series as they had done in the second round against Boston.
“We’re taking one game at a time,” he said. “We’ll worry about Game 3 now.”
Martin then snickered.
“Silly question,” he said. “Mom didn’t raise no fool.”
Martin led the Nets with 25 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter and 14 of the Nets’ 16 points during one stretch of the final period. Jason Kidd added 20 points and came up with a huge defensive play on a last-second three-point try by Chauncey Billups that missed badly as the final buzzer sounded.
Richard Hamilton scored 24 points for Detroit and Ben Wallace grabbed 19 rebounds. It was a devastating defeat for the Pistons, who lost a second straight two-point game on their home court.
Trailing, 88-86, the Pistons in-bounded with 1.8 seconds left and went to Billups, who pump-faked outside the three-point arc but couldn’t get Kidd to jump. Detroit coach Rick Carlisle refused to bite when asked if he thought Billups was fouled on the final shot.
“Forget the last play,” Carlisle said. “It shouldn’t have come down to the last play when we had a lead like we did. We made too many careless mistakes, things you can’t do at this stage of the playoffs.”
As in Game 1, the outcome was not decided until the closing seconds.
The Pistons held the biggest lead of the game, 69-58, early in the fourth quarter only to see Martin lead a New Jersey rally that allowed the Nets to tie the score at 81-81 with 3 minutes 53 seconds left.
After ties at 83-83 and 85-85, New Jersey’s Richard Jefferson coaxed in one of two free throws to give the Nets their first lead since early in the third quarter, 86-85, with 1:18 left. A free throw by Detroit’s Corliss Williamson tied the score with 1:07 left. But Jefferson then drew a foul on Williamson and sank both free throws with 48 seconds to go.
Williamson missed inside and the Nets ran the clock down before Kidd missed a jumper and the ball went out of bounds to Detroit with 1.8 seconds left.
As he did in the closing seconds of Game 1, Detroit rookie Tayshaun Prince, who started in place of Michael Curry, in-bounded from inside halfcourt. He went to Billups, who misfired, and the Nets raced off the court to the booing of the crowd, which was also looking for a foul.
“I wasn’t going to jump,” said Kidd, describing his defense on the final play. “Just put my arms up to contest.”