AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Detroit Pistons survived some of the worst basketball they have played recently to upend the patchwork Washington Bullets, 85-79, last night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The victory was the fourth straight for the Pistons, who lead the Chicago Bulls by one game in the Central Division. The Bullets have lost four straight after winning their first two.
Isiah Thomas made a driving layup with 58.5 seconds to play to ice the game. Thomas scored 21 and Joe Dumars, who scored 12 in the fourth quarter as Detroit overcame a nine-point deficit, scored 23. Mark Aguirre added 16 off the bench.
Michael Adams led the Bullets with 23 points, and Pervis Ellison added 13.
With starter Harvey Grant and key reserve Ledell Eackles left home nursing injuries, Bullets coach Wes Unseld started a makeshift lineup that gave the Pistons fits for most of the game.
However, the more experienced Detroit club held its poise down the stretch to pull out the victory.
The Bullets held the lead until late in the fourth quarter, when Dumars hit a jumper from the top of the key to give Detroit an 80-78 lead with 2 minutes, 40 seconds to play.
Washington missed a shot and Aguirre was fouled by Ellison. Aguirre made one of two foul shots to give Detroit an 81-78 lead.
Adams made one of two free throws to cut the Pistons lead to two.
Then Thomas made a driving layup with the shot clock running out to give the Pistons an 83-79 lead with 58.5 seconds remaining.
Neither team could score on its next two possessions. Adams missed a jumper in the lane with time running out. Dennis Rodman, making a save from out of bounds, flipped the ball to Ellison, who also missed a shot.
Detroit's Bill Laimbeer was fouled on the rebound and made the final two points of the game at the foul line.
Ex-Bullet Darrell Walker helped the Pistons get back into the game with some clutch defense in the fourth quarter.
With Adams scoring 10, the Bullets took a 66-57 lead after three quarters. By this time, the Pistons had four technical fouls and were committing turnovers well into double figures.
Both teams were sloppy.
In the last six minutes of the third quarter, the Bullets outscored Detroit 10-3 to take a nine-point lead. The Pistons were shooting 33 percent from the field at the time.
Unseld's makeshift lineup fashioned a 41-40 halftime lead, partly on pluck and hustle, and partly because Detroit was off its game.
Unseld started rookie Larry Stewart and Greg Foster up front, with Ellison in the middle and free agent David Wingate with Michael Adams in the backcourt.
The Bullets took a 7-2 lead in the first three minutes.
The Pistons drew two early technical fouls -- against Rodman and Thomas in the first quarter.
The Pistons mounted a 12-2 rally to take a 20-16 lead late in the first quarter.
Detroit led 23-20 when the first quarter ended and extended the margin to 27-20 early in the second period.
But the Bullets, behind Tom Hammonds and Albert King, stayed with the Pistons basket for basket. Hammonds scored six points in an 8-0 Bullets run that gave Washington a 41-38 lead late in the first half. A steal by Adams and court-length pass to Wingate put the Bullets ahead 39-38.
Hammonds climaxed the rally with a short jumper.
A pair of free throws by Thomas cut the Bullets lead to one at the half.
Washington shot 38 percent in the first half but held the Pistons to 36.6 percent and forced Detroit into 12 turnovers.
The Bullets held the lead despite being out-rebounded, 32-19.