AUBURN HILLS, June 10 -- With the NBA Finals shifting venues to the Palace at Auburn Hills, the Detroit Pistons' defense was back in top form for Game 3, stifling the Lakers into an all-time franchise-playoff-low 68 points. Los Angeles shot just .365 (27-of-74) from the field in its 20-point loss, but that's only a piece of the story.
Said Kobe Bryant afterward, "They played excellent defense and we didn't execute. That's basically what it boiled down to."
Rasheed and Ben Wallace kept Shaquille O'Neal at bay in the paint in Game 3.
Jesse Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
Indeed. The Pistons' big men -- Rasheed Wallace
, Ben Wallace
, Elden Campbell
and Corliss Williamson
-- put the paint into lockdown mode, continually forcing Shaquille O'Neal
to kick out to perimeter shooters. While the Lakers fired away from downtown -- hoisting 27 3-pointers on the night and making six (.222) -- O'Neal attempted only 14 field goals, and likewise failed to draw fouls, going 0-of-2 from the free throw line. His 14 points were a career-low for an NBA Finals game.
Meanwhile, he got no help from erstwhile wingman Bryant, whose 11 points were his own personal Finals low since scoring eight in Game 5 against Indiana in 2000. Again unable to create shots for himself over the long arms of Tayshaun Prince, Bryant didn't score his first basket until the third quarter and finished 4-of-13 from the field with a team-high four turnovers.
The remaining Lakers fared no better offensively, shooting a collective 16-of-47 (.340) for 43 points, led by Derek Fisher's nine off the bench.
But field-goal shooting wasn't the only problem; L.A. also couldn't get to the line, attempting only 13 free throws compared to the Pistons' 30.
"That a lot of times is a sign of the aggressor," said Phil Jackson, "the team that's most aggressive in basketball, and we're the reactors."
On the glass, the Pistons outworked the Lakers on both ends off the floor -- outrebounding L.A. 51-39 -- and really hurt them offensively. Detroit grabbed 15 offensive rebounds off their own missed shots and scored 16 second-chance points to the Lakers' three. Ben and Rasheed Wallace led the Pistons inside, combining for 21 boards.
Commented Larry Brown after Game 3. "I don't think you can guard better than our big people did or rebound the ball."
All The Way Home
After letting a six-point lead slip away in the final 47 seconds of game 2 in Los Angeles, the Pistons returned home on a mission.
And they did not waver for a second on Thursday night at the Palace, scoring the first bucket of the game and never letting go of the lead. It was the first time the Pistons have led from buzzer to buzzer in the 2004 postseason.
“You know, we’ve lost some tough ones this year and come back the next game and played a little flat,” said Chauncey Billups. “And today, we learned from that… We came in yesterday and watched the film and let it go. We came in and just let it go. We learned from our past experiences earlier in the season and we came out very aggressive.”
“I’m shocked,” said Head Coach Larry Brown. “We played so good defensively. We kept people in front of us, we limited them to one shot for the most part. We kept people off the free-throw line. I think one of the keys to keeping any team off the line is being able to prevent dribble penetration off fastbreak opportunities and we did that.”
Billups and Hamilton, Again
And key to the offensive attack for the Pistons, as has been the case throughout The Finals, were Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton
Hamilton posted a game-high 31 points, more than Shaq (14) and Kobe (11) combined, while Billups added 19 points. Both went a perfect seven-for-seven from the free throw line. Over the last two games, the duo has accounted for 58 percent of the Pistons’ scoring output.
“For the most part, when those guys play like that, you know, we pretty much are a great basketball team, said Tayshaun Prince
. “Once [Rasheed Wallace] got in foul trouble, we try to go to Rip and Chauncey, which we’ve been doing all year long and they definitely responded tonight.”
Said Hamilton of their night, “I think when me and Chauns are on, it’s hard to stop us, especially when we take good shots. I think tonight, we really let the offense dictate our shots… Everybody did a great job of setting us up.”
Hamilton’s 31 points marked his third 30-plus scoring game of the 2004 postseason and fell two points shy of his all-time playoff high of 33 points that he posted earlier this postseason vs. Indiana in Game 5.
Gettin' the Mo Back...Rarely Done
After the thrilling Game 2, all the talk was how the Lakers had the momentum, and the Pistons needed to overcome a devastating loss. Well, we're on the other side of that coin now. With the Game 3 blowout, and the Lakers having set a team low for playoff scoring with 68 points, the Pistons now have the 'Mo', and the Lakers have to find a way to get it back.
"This is only one game. We know how to bounce back and now we just need to bounce back," Shaquille O'Neal said.
But can they? Finals history says no. The Finals have been tied at 1-1 30 times; the winner of Game 3 has a 26-4 record in winning the series, and is 8-0 since The Finals went to a 2-3-2 format.
Looking at this season, however, the results slightly more favorable. The Lakers got blown out (15 points or more) ten times in 2003-2004, and they won the next game seven times, with the three losses coming early in the season.
"Hopefully we'll use the next two days to heal up a little more, work on our execution a little bit and come back with a better effort," said Kobe Bryant.
Karl Malone knows what they are up against. "It’s urgent, but we are just trying to win one game," he said. "We’re just trying to get one ballgame, and the sooner the better."
The Lakers faced a similar momentum shift in the Western Conference Semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs. Down 2-0, they swept the next four games and moved on. That recent experience may just help them.
As Bryant said, "You know, we're faced with a heck of a challenge right now, being down 2-1 and to have two games coming up on their home floor. We can draw off the San Antonio series for experience."
The first three games of the NBA Finals are eerily reminiscent of how the 1984 series between Boston and L.A. unfolded, with the Lakers on the opposite side of the ledger this time. That year, the Lakers topped the Celtics at Boston Garden in Game 1, then blew a chance for a road sweep after a game-saving miracle (Gerald Henderson's steal for Boston) forced overtime in Game 2, and returned home to trounce Larry Bird
and Co. by 33 points in Game 3 behind a Finals-record 21 assists from Magic Johnson
"We played like a bunch of sissies," said Bird at the time. "I know the heart and soul of this team, and today the heart wasn't there, that's for sure. I can't believe a team like this would let L.A. come out and push us around like they did. Today I didn't feel we played hard. We got beat bad, and it's very embarrassing."
The Celts dug in defensively, playing a more physical style that bothered L.A., and went on to win the championship in seven games. We'll see if the Lakers can follow in the footsteps of their archrivals.
"We Want Darko"
With the Pistons up 80-62 and 3:25 to go in the fourth, the crowd was definitely into the game, and they definitely knew who they wanted to get into the game, too.
"We want Dark-o! We want Dark-o! We want Dark-o!"
While it is unlikely that Coach Larry Brown was answering the thunderstick-wielding masses, he did send the 7-1 rookie into the game with 1:48 remaining.
Darko Milicic, who last played on May 20th vs. New Jersey, saw a total of five minutes in the Nets series and another four minutes against the Bucks.
His personal NBA Finals two-minute drill was not without contribution. Although he came up empty on his single shot attempt (a 13-foot jump shot with 14 seconds to go), he did pull down a rebound on a missed jump shot by Kobe Bryant.
Two more wins, and he can wear that ring with pride.