By Bryan Williams
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., June 11 -- After Detroit's Richard Hamilton scored just 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting against the Lakers in Game 1, it appeared Kobe Bryant's aggressive one-on-one defense, coupled with the occasional double-team, might be enough to take the wiry shooting guard out of his game.
Hamilton is averaging 21.7 ppg in the playoffs, four more than during the regular season.
Jesse Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
"I didn't really think too much about his tendencies," said Bryant that night. "Just tried to shadow him, that's all -- just stay in his face all night long and get to be pretty annoying."
Hamilton didn't stay annoyed for long. His 26 points in Game 2 were overshadowed by Bryant's late heroics, but the offensive spotlight in Game 3 belonged to Rip.
Hitting 11-of-22 from the field off an array of mid-range jump shots, drives to the basket and even putbacks in the lane, Hamilton finished with a game-high 31 points, the third time he's topped the 30-point mark during the 2004 playoffs after doing it just once in the regular season:
HAMILTON 30+ FGM-A FTM-A PTS
June 10 vs. LAL* 11-22 7-7 31
May 30 at IND* 12-22 8-8 33
May 11 at NJN* 11-20 6-8 30
Nov. 28 vs. CLE 15-23 13-15 44
* Playoff game
Hamilton made his postseason debut last year -- his first in Detroit after three seasons with the Washington Wizards -- and took to the stage immediately, scoring 28 points in his first-ever playoff game, a 99-94 loss to the Orlando Magic.
His big performance would soon become a trend; Hamilton currently ranks fourth among active players in terms of positive scoring differential between the regular season and playoffs:
PPG REG. POST. DIFF.
2003-04 17.6 21.7 +4.1
2002-03 19.7 22.5 +2.8
CAREER 16.9 22.1 +5.2
The key, of course, is how Hamilton's scoring -- particularly on a defensive-oriented team -- translates into Pistons wins. Under coach Larry Brown
, Hamilton shared the ball more than ever during the regular season, posting a career-high 4.0 assists to go with 17.6 points per game, his lowest scoring average since his rookie year.
But the Pistons appear to need his points more than his passing -- while his assist numbers remain consistent in Pistons wins and losses, his scoring makes a dramatic difference:
2003-04 PPG APG
Playoff wins 22.2 4.5
Playoff losses 20.7 3.4
Regular-season wins 19.1 3.9
Regular-season losses 15.1 4.1
Not surprisingly, Hamilton also shoots much more efficiently in Detroit victories -- .479 to .405 during the regular season -- which Brown attributes to he and backcourt-mate Chauncey Billups
simply playing a smart, all-around game.
Said Brown after Game 3, "I think our guards, when they play the complete game -- when they take shots that are available, hit open people, start our defense, run the break -- that's when we are at our best."
Not that Hamilton is going to stop shooting -- in the playoffs he's made more than 25 percent of the Pistons' total field goals (170 out of 658) and scored more than 25 percent of the team's total points (456 out of 1,815).
"I feel as though I'm a great shooter," said Hamilton after his below-average Game 1, "and at some point in time, it's going to drop."