Pistons shock LakersShaq, Kobe do their thing but Detroit defence holds
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
The Detroit Pistons think all those snooty basketball prognosticators should go and dunk their heads in the salty California surf.
No one has given the Pistons much of a chance to beat the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA final. But the blue-collar and blue-uniformed Pistons stared into the West Coast sunshine and spat last night, shocking the Lakers 87-75 in Game 1 before a stunned sellout crowd of 18,997 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Simply put, the Pistons showed up to play, external expectations be damned.
The Lakers? Shaquille O'Neal was absolutely awesome (34 points and 11 rebounds), and Kobe Bryant heated up slowly (25 points on 10-for-27 shooting), but everyone else stunk.
Karl Malone scored four points on 2-for-9 shooting. Gary Payton had three points on 1-for-4 shooting. Derek Fisher was 1-for-9 for two points. The Lakers got only four points from their bench.
Part of that was the Lakers' own fault, but great credit must be given to the Pistons' defence. It was as if the Pistons decided to let Shaq and Kobe do what they were going to do, as long as none of the other Lakers found their rhythm.
"Yeah," Pistons coach Larry Brown said when asked if he was surprised. "To hold them to 75 points is pretty incredible. I don't know if we can ever defend better. I don't know if we can play better. But that's what it's going to take."
Interestingly, the Pistons' best offensive performer of the playoffs, Richard (Rip) Hamilton, wasn't himself, scoring 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting. But three other Pistons scored in double-figures and somehow it was enough.
"Defensively, we were just trying to be aggressive," said Chauncey Billups, who led Detroit with 22 points. "And offensively, we don't think they can stop us."
For one night at least, that was true.
"This puts a lot of pressure on us," Shaq said. "We have to act like we want it."
Back when Los Angeles and Detroit met in the NBA final in 1988 and 1989, the Lakers' Magic Johnson and the Pistons' Isiah Thomas raised eyebrows throughout society by kissing each other before the opening tip. It's unclear how much necking there will be in this year's final, but if any smooching eventually develops, the public surely will react with indifference rather than fascination.
In fact, the perpetrators can expect to be approached by a reality-TV crew and asked if they're interested in selling the broadcast rights to their same-sex marriage in Ontario. It's amazing how much has changed in 15 years.
Not only was there no kissing last night, but Detroit's Rasheed Wallace became agitated almost immediately when he picked up two early fouls trying to stop O'Neal. Wallace sat out virtually the entire second quarter and Shaq had 20 points at the half as the Lakers held a 41-40 lead.
The most spectacular play of the half occurred when Billups did a virtual somersault over the first row of seats, landing awkwardly on his back and neck.
Hamilton landed awkwardly twice late in the third quarter and seemed to hurt himself, but on the whole it was the Lakers who were the injured party. A little more than two minutes into the fourth quarter the Lakers were down by 13 points and it slowly was dawning on them that coming back against the Pistons' defence is not easy.
The disappointed L.A. fans started to skulk out with about a minute and a half to play.
"The Pistons made each possession like a football possession," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We tried to speed it up a little bit, but everything worked out in their favour.
"Ultimately, the difference in the game was who made the most shots under duress with the shot clock running down."
There's no doubt which team is under duress now. It's the one clad in purple and gold.