AUBURN HILLS, Mich., June 14 -- With Game 4 tied at 56 as the fourth quarter began, Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups dribbled the ball upcourt against some light defensive pressure by Kobe Bryant, something Bryant had also done the same thing at the end of Game 3 much to Billups’ delight.
The Wallaces came up big again in Game 4, teaming for 34 points and 26 boards.
Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE/Getty Images
“He picked me up and I loved it man, I loved it,” Billups said during Saturday's media session. “It's a great challenge for me, and if he can start picking me up full court, I'm just going to be running off pick-and-rolls. I think we'll be able to wear him down on the offensive end, and it will make it a lot easier on Rip and Tayshaun and those guys.”
Billups' words would prove prophetic. After both teams missed shots to begin the final period on Sunday, Richard Hamilton slipped free for open jumpers on consecutive possessions to put Detroit up by four, stirring up the crowd and forcing Los Angeles to call timeout at the 10:38 mark, less than a minute and a half into the quarter.
To that point, the game had been tightly contested. Neither squad had led by more than five points, and the matchup had featured 17 lead changes and 18 ties. However, the Pistons would take control in the fourth.
Coming out of the Laker timeout, Bryant made a nice move to the basket to pull the Lakers within two, but the Pistons answered right back with an alley-oop from Billups to Rasheed Wallace that got the Palace rocking once more and prompted L.A. to call its second timeout in just over a minute. And after a Shaquille O'Neal dunk once play resumed, it was all Detroit.
Ben Wallace jump-started the run with an offensive rebound and putback off his own missed free throw, then Rasheed knocked down a wide-open look from the baseline and Billups blazed one of his two 3-pointers in the period -- the only two treys the Pistons hit all game long.
Moments later, the Lakers began to show their frustration. Gary Payton threw an elbow into Hamilton and was whistled for an offensive foul and Bryant drew a technical after objecting to a foul call of his own. Meanwhile, Phil Jackson was shuffling players on and off the floor on virtually a per-minute basis; nine different Lakers saw time, including Bryon Russell, who had previously appeared for only one minute in the series.
"We didn’t do what we normally have done in the past allowing the Lakers to get back into the game," said Ben Wallace. "We were able to execute our sets, make good shots and get second shots. We pressed the boards, and for the most part, we didn’t give up a lot of second shots."
When the smoke cleared, the Pistons had taken Game 4 88-80, opening up the offense to outscore L.A. 32-24 in the fourth. Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace led the way, combining for 21 of their 43 points in the game and setting up the possibility of clinching the NBA championship on their home floor in Game 5. If successful, Detroit would become the first team since the 2-3-2 format was instituted to win Games 3-5 at home.
Said Hamilton, "We just have to come out, stay poised, really feed off our crowd. I think our crowd has been amazing since we've been playing here ... We won tonight, but we know we've got to win another one."
Speaking of Sheed
Rasheed Wallace was the Pistons prize acquisition at the NBA trading deadline in February. And today was the day the dividends were paid. After averaging 9.3 points in the first 3 games of The Finals, Wallace notched 2004 playoff-highs in points (26) and rebounds (13) in Game 4.
"Somebody said he was going to get 20 tonight," coach Larry Brown said.
"We haven’t been getting him the ball that much. Today we got him the ball on a consistent basis," Tayshaun Prince said. "When you get the ball five or six trips in a row, then you’ve got a rhythm, and when you’ve got a rhythm, it’s tough to stop you."
When Wallace came to the Lakers in mid-season, it wasn't about being a go-to player. It was about his ability to contribute in all areas.
Commented Kobe Bryant, "I think Rasheed gives them a lot of confidence because he's been there before. He gives them, defensively, a big presence, offensively he's able to spread the floor. He's been big for this team. "
Avoiding first quarter foul trouble and the injury to Karl Malone also contributed to Wallace's game. "It just felt good for the first time in this series to play in the second quarter," Wallace said.
"Obviously, Karl (Malone) being out, you know, impacts the Lakers defensively against him," Brown said. "Rasheed wasn't involved defensively a lot. That was the key. We need him to play and to play major minutes, and I think tonight really showed his value."
Wallace has been impressive with the Pistons in not demanding the ball and letting other scorers that Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups take the shots. Tonight was his night to shine.
Coach Brown said, "I'm really proud of him."
That's One Big Aristotle
Prior to this year, Shaquille O'Neal had averaged 34.2 points per game in The Finals, second all-time only to Rick Barry's 36.3 ppg. Through the first three games of this series, however, O'Neal was averaging just 25.7 points per game -- thanks in large part to his 14-point performance of Game 3. It was bound to end some time, and that time came Sunday night at the Palace.
O'Neal notched his highest-scoring game of the postseason in Game 4 as he started the game a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and went on to score 36 points on the night. Continuing his monster night, O'Neal also added a game-high 20 rebounds. The last player to record a 30-point, 20-rebound game in the playoffs was Tim Duncan who posted 32 points and 20 rebounds in Game 1 of the 2003 NBA Finals. [Amazing to think that the rebounding record for a regulation Finals game is 40, set by Boston's Bill Russell on March 29, 1960, when you consider that the Lakers only had 38 rebounds as a team tonight.]
O'Neal's performance would not be enough, as Kobe Bryant shot 32 percent on the night, connecting on only eight of 25 shots for 20 points and the rest of the team provided little support.
The production from the bench in Game 4 was not quite the type of production the Lakers were looking for. Los Angeles subs contributed more fouls (17) than points (nine) on the night. Game 2's hero, Luke Walton
epitomized the bench's futility, fouling out with 6:03 to go in the fourth quarter with no points, one rebound and three asssists.
Overall, the Pistons took more than twice as many free throws as the Lakers, but neither team was able to make the most of their time at the charity stripe. Detroit converted only 68.3 percent of their 41 attempts tonight, while the Lakers went 50 percent from the line over their 22 shots.
The Usual Suspects?
During the days leading up to Game 4, there was much speculation in the media regarding possible changes to the Lakers starting lineup. Talking to the press before the start of the game, Phil Jackson said that he had decided on lineup changes and ended the discussion with, "You'll see at game time."
But come game time, it was the same five on the court in Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Devean George and Shaq.
After the game, Jackson explained the reason for the change to no-change. "[Karl and I] had a short chat chat before the ballgame. I said, 'Go out and try it and see how you feel before the game.' He wanted to give it a try, so we stayed with him and gave him a shot."
Injury continued to plague Malone on the night as he scored two points and grabbed five rebounds over 21 minutes. He left the game with 7:30 to go in the third and would not return for the night.
"Karl couldn't come back the second half and play with any quickness or reactivity," said Jackson. "He couldn't run the court very well, in fact. We had to pull the plug on that experiment sometime early."
The Lakers tried various combinations in the fourth quarter, making a total of 10 substitutions in the period as Detroit pulled away, converting a 56-56 tie at the end of the third quarter to an 88-80 victory.