PISTONS 100, LAKERS 87
Underdog Pistons finish off Lakers in a Finals rout
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Against all odds, the Detroit Pistons captured the NBA championship last night, celebrating their upset of the Los Angeles Lakers amid a shower of red, white and blue confetti and the deafening cheers of a sold-out Palace of Auburn Hills. With a 100-87 victory, the Pistons completed their unexpected domination of the Lakers and took the Finals, four games to one.
NBA commissioner David Stern presented the Pistons with the Larry O'Brien Trophy at center court, marking the third NBA title for the franchise (the first since 1990) and the first for head coach Larry Brown.
It also was the first time the Pistons have clinched a championship on their home court and the first time Lakers coach Phil Jackson has lost a Finals series.
"Being up there on that championship stage was just unbelievable," said Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, the former Celtic who had 14 points and 6 assists. "I was speechless up there. For me to be MVP was even more unbelievable. Those are things you dream about as a kid, when you first start playing. There's not many things in my lifetime that made me feel that way."
In the end, the coronation rightfully belonged to the Pistons, who showed more desire, more athleticism, and more teamwork than the Lakers. With the game well in hand, the fourth quarter served as a 12-minute processional. Laker veterans Gary Payton and Karl Malone (who was in street clothes with a knee sprain) will have to wait at least another year for their first NBA title, and Jackson will remain tied with Red Auerbach for most championships among coaches (nine).
This Lakers season will be remembered for the soap opera that it was. The Pistons will look back on the pivotal acquisition of temperamental Rasheed Wallace -- and the soap opera that wasn't.
"I never thought of this Piston ball club as my team," said Wallace. "It's a band of guys. It's veteran guys. I think when you have veterans who are hungry and are willing to sacrifice things to win, you don't necessarily need to be a leader because everyone knows what they have to do.
"So I just went out there, did it, and now we know we're sitting on top of the world."
The Pistons built a 10-point halftime advantage, 55-45, and the Lakers would not wrest the lead from them. Wallace reinforced the notion by opening the third quarter with a 3-pointer from the left corner.
Detroit finished the quarter with a 20-6 run that for all intents and purposes secured the title.
With an 82-59 lead by the end of the third, the Pistons could practically feel the trophy in their hands.
The sequence that truly proved the Pistons were taking nothing for granted came late in the quarter, near the start of the decisive spurt.
It started when Ben Wallace followed a Billups miss with a powerful dunk. On the Pistons' next possession, Billups drove in for a layup and completed a 3-point play.
Then, on defense, Ben Wallace rose to block a Shaquille O'Neal hook shot. He was called for goaltending, but it was the thought that counted. All series long, the Pistons would not be intimidated by the Laker superstars. Last night was no different. As the Lakers unraveled (Devean George and Payton picked up technicals with less than three minutes to play in the third), the Pistons built confidence.
"We just took it to them," said Tayshaun Prince (17 points, 10 rebounds).
"We knew we could play with anybody in this league. I think we showed it tonight. They came out here with everything they have. We kept fighting, fighting, fighting. It was an all-around effort by everybody."
With three personal fouls, Shaquille O'Neal was limited to 18 minutes in the first half, not nearly enough to complement the efforts of Kobe Bryant (24 points) and Stanislav Medvedenko (10). And they needed all the offense they could muster, as the Pistons clicked along at 61 percent from the floor in the half.
"We started off with nice energy and we just got into quick foul trouble and then they just had us on our heels from that point," said O'Neal, who finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds. "I feel like we lost our poise a little bit. They just came out and played real good team ball and they flat-out beat us. Congratulations to them."
The Pistons grabbed an 8-point edge with a 9-0 run midway through the second period. The spurt started with a layup from Richard Hamilton and finished with a reverse layup from Billups. For the remainder of the half, the Pistons continued to stretch their advantage, leading by as many as 12 (55-43) after a Mehmet Okur finger roll with 28.9 seconds left in the quarter. "I haven't been through 48 minutes like that," said Brown, who became the first coach to win both an NBA and an NCAA championship (Kansas).
"You know I've always enjoyed the moment. The bigger the game, the more I enjoyed it. But the way this group came together, with Rasheed coming late and losing quality people . . . this was a strange night.
"I had no idea what it would feel like. But I remember Chuck Daly told me something one day, that when you finally do win one, you won't appreciate it until you're driving down the highway one day and you'll get a big grin on your face."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.