Kobe Bryant's 3-pointer kept the Lakers from fading into history.
(Kent Horner/NBAE/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, June 8 -- Forget Fisher. And you can give Kareem the bum's Rush as well. When it comes to clutch this season for the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant trumped them all.
"It's the biggest shot I ever hit," Bryant responded to a question as to where it ranked in his stellar career.
Sure, without Derek Fisher's game-winner in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Spurs, the Lakers might not even be here in The Finals. But the Lakers would have been down 3-2 had they lost that game and teams have come back to win Games 6 and 7. And without Rush's performance in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers may have had to fight their way to a win in Minnesota for Game 7. That too had been done before.
Bryant's game-tying 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds in regulation shifted the momentum in Game 2 and lifted the Lakers to a 99-91 win. More importantly, Bryant's 28-foot shot kept the Lakers from falling into a historical abyss heading into Thursday's Game 3 at the Palace of Auburn Hills (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
Only two teams in Finals history have come back from a 2-0 deficit and those teams -- the 1969 Celtics and the 1977 Trail Blazers -- lost their first two games on the road. But losing two at home and then coming back to win the series? Well, that would have been nearly impossible.
Yet, the Lakers seemed to be in an impossible situation with 47.8 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. The Pistons' Ben Wallace scored off of an offensive rebound to give Detroit a six-point lead.
After their listless performance in Game 1, one had to wonder whether the Lakers had enough left for a comeback. Lost in the excitement of Bryant's heroics was Shaquille O'Neal's bucket and a Ben Wallace foul with 35.9 seconds left.
Shaq, who's shooting .427 from the line for the playoffs through Game 1, hit the free throw to bring the Lakers within three and set up Bryant's shot. O'Neal is 17-for-26 (.654) from the line in the Finals.
Take My Point Guard, Please ...
Shaq's comfortable in front of the mic.|
Players are well versed in the art of playing it safe with the media. While it isn't easy to open up to a room full of reporters after a hard fought game, most pro athletes won't talk about anything other than the game they just played and the next game coming up.
And then there's Shaquille O'Neal.
After Game 2, Shaquille O'Neal transformed the media interview room into his own private open mic session. Among the gems that made the room erupt in laughter included:
"City and state, please."
--To a reporter who didn't identify where he was from, as is customarily done during interview sessions.
(Silence, shrugs, quizzical look.)
--To another reporter who didn't identify where he was from. The reporter then told him his station was worldwide.
"It's amazing he can give me the ball, and guys I've been playing with for four, five, six years can't get me the ball."
--On rookie Luke Walton.
"I was tired because I took 200 sleeping pills yesterday ... What kind of question is that? ... Hell, yeah, I'm tired. Tired of you."
--To a reporter who told him he looked like he was tired. To his credit, a smiling Shaq shook hands with the writer after the exchange.
Chauncey Billups had 27 points in Game 2.|
Nathaniel S. Butler
I'll have four numbers threes. Forget ordering value meals at the drive-thru, if the Pistons could have pieced together four quarters like the third, they would have taken Game 2 by a final score of 120-96. And that was in large part due to Chauncey Billups, who posted 16 of his team-high 27 points in the third. Billups, along with backcourt-mate Richard Hamilton, gave Los Angeles problems throughout the night, but it wasn't enough to hold off the Lakers. Look for more on the inside from Detroit in Game 3.
"We kind of forgot about going inside and that's all we talked about," said Detroit Coach Larry Brown after the game. "We've got to get a situation where the ball is a little more evenly distributed, in my mind, especially late in the game when we are in the bonus."
All Tied Up
Conventional sports wisdom has always said that if the lower seed can take one of the first two on the road, they're doing alright. But after winning Game 1, don't think for a second that the Pistons were about to sit back and let the Lakers walk away with Part II. And with 2.1 seconds to go in the fourth, it almost looked like they were about to pull off the sweep (of the first two, that is). But Kobe Bryant hit that three from way downtown, and the Pistons would have to settle for returning home with it all tied up at one apiece.
This marks the 10th time the teams have split the first two games since The Finals went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985. It has now happened in three of the last four Finals, including 2001 (Philadelphia-Los Angeles) and 2003 (New Jersey-San Antonio).
And while Larry Brown described the mood in the locker room as "crushed," Richard Hamilton put it differently.
"We're still a confident team. It's tough to lose the way we lost tonight. We got one. We wish that we could have got two, but now it's time to go to our home court. We're going to take total advantage of that and play in front of our fans, which we think are the best fans in the world and just come out and play."
"We had them on the ropes," said Billups. "There's no ifs, ands or buts. We had them on the ropes and they got out. They won this game, but I think we outplayed that team for three quarters out of every game. So I think we woke them up a little bit and they know this is going to be a dogfight."
Bring it on.
"3 To Be"
Whatever the Lakers needed, Luke Walton provided.|
That's what was written on the whiteboard in the Lakers' locker room after the game. It was accompanied by a drawing of a ring, and it may well have symbolized the Lakers' three titles this decade.
But after this game, the game where the Lakers came back from six points down in the final 36 seconds and tied it with a Kobe Bryant three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left, it meant everything. That three brought the Lakers back from the brink. The brink of being down 0-2 going into Detroit. The brink of what would have definitely been a slew of "What's wrong with the Lakers?" stories. It was the three-to-be-back-in-it. The three-that-needed-to-be.
But as Kobe said after the game, "You can talk about my shot all night long but without Luke in the ballgame playing as well as he did, we would not be in that position."
So let's talk about Luke Walton. No one saw this coming. Luke Walton only stepped on the court in Game 1 for warmups, registering his fifth DNP of the playoffs.
Game 2 was a different story.
"The assistants told me coach was flirting with the idea of switching some matchups and they told me to be ready tonight because there was a chance I might get in," Walton said.
Walton played 27 minutes in Game 2, (only the fourth time he played that many minutes all season), putting up seven points, five rebounds and eight assists, the most assists by a rookie in a Finals game since Magic Johnson played against the Sixers in the 1980 Finals.
"I just needed somebody in there that could move the ball and had the ability to create things off the dribble," Jackson said.
Walton's play gave the Lakers an emotional lift, provided a rise for the crowd, and was the complement Shaq and Kobe were looking for, which was missing in Game 1.
After playing a strong second quarter, Walton sat the entire third quarter, and as Phil Jackson said after the game, "Tex Winter was poking me behind me to get him back in the game and fortunately we did."
Said Walton, "As soon as he called my name, I was sprinting to the scorer's table so they could send me in."
In he went for 10 fourth quarter minutes and all of overtime. Walton's baseline dribble and alley-oop pass to Shaq sealed the game in OT.
"I love stuff like this," Walton said. "I've always loved big games, and I was just hoping that I would get my chance and Coach gave me a chance tonight."
History on their side
In the history of the 2-3-2 Finals format, no home team has won all three middle games. The road team has swept the middle three three times, all including participants in this year's Finals. The Pistons took three games at Portland in 1990, the Bulls swept through L.A. and the Lakers in 1991, and the Lakers closed out the Sixers in 2001 with their games in Philadelphia.
As it was in Game 1, only Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant scored in double digits. The two scored all 10 overtime points for the Lakers ... Detroit's two points in the overtime session were the fewest points in an overtime period in Finals history (post-shot clock era). The previous Finals overtime low was four points, five times (last by both Phoenix and Chicago, who each scored four points in the first OT period in Game 3 on June 13, 1993, an eventual 129-121 Phoenix win in triple overtime).