Pistons 87, Lakers 75
The Detroit Pistons, the ugly ball-playing team from the junior varsity Eastern Conference, took on the Los Angeles Lakers, out-played the disjointed Western Conference favorites, silenced the jam-packed Staples Center -- until the crowd started to boo -- and stole Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, 87-75.
The surprise victory immediately changed the tone of the best-of-seven series. The Pistons were pegged to be competitive but not much of a headache to a team that can't blame the loss on being apathetic or bored. The Pistons took the action to the Lakers from the outset, survived a tough second quarter, took command in the third, stretched the lead to 13 in the fourth, then answered every comeback bid with a big shot.
"It's incredible, but we can't dwell on that," said Pistons guard Chauncey Billups, who had a team-high 22 points. "We came in here to try and win Game 1 and we did that. I thought we did a great job taking care of business."
Detroit had four players score in double figures, got 19 points from reserves and committed just four second-half turnovers. Los Angeles, meantime, got a combined 59 points from center Shaquille O'Neal (34 points, 11 rebounds) and guard Kobe Bryant (25 points, 10-of-27 shooting), but did not have another player score more than five points. The Lakers' reserves managed just four points.
O'Neal made 13 of 16 shots; the rest of the team converted 16 of 57 attempts.
Pistons swingman Tayshaun Prince, who harassed Bryant defensively, added 11 points, three coming on a long jumper with 4 minutes 37 seconds remaining that stopped the Lakers' last serious bid to rally. Richard Hamilton added 12 points, and forward Rasheed Wallace finished with 14.
"All the guys on the team did a great job stepping up tonight," Hamilton said. "It was a total team effort. It tells you how deep this team is."
The Lakers have been in this position before, winning four straight games after losing the series opener of the NBA Finals to the Larry Brown-coached Philadelphia 76ers in 2001. In this season's conference semifinals, the Lakers lost the first two games to the San Antonio Spurs, only to win the next four and advance to the next round.
Los Angeles' ability to bounce back has been the story of its season. Yet this is a Pistons team that plays a style the Lakers are not accustomed to; if Los Angeles waits too long to focus, it will find itself in Detroit for the three middle games of this best-of-seven series fighting for its life.
The last time the Pistons took the first game from the Lakers in the NBA Finals, they swept them to win the 1989 championship.
"It puts a lot of pressure on us for next game," O'Neal said. "This is the type of team that plays aggressive defense. They wanted it more than we did."
Said Bryant: "It was a matter of us trying to get a feel for what they do defensively. They did an incredible job executing. It was a good game played by them for 48 minutes. It's a big challenge, but I think we're up for it."
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson expressed concern before the game about the lack of familiarity with a Detroit team that Los Angeles had not played since November, when it did not have Rasheed Wallace, whom the Pistons acquired in a February trade, could help produce an upset.
"I don't know if it was [being] too passive; I think it was the pace of the game that the Pistons generated during the course of the game," Jackson said. "They made each possession like a football possession."
The Pistons made an already uneasy crowd even more uptight through the third quarter after Wallace opened Detroit's scoring with a three-pointer that gave the Pistons a one-point lead that would grow to eight and settle at 64-58 at the end of the period.
Billups scored eight points in the period and, with consecutive baskets from Prince, keyed a 16-8 run that seemed to stun a Lakers team that, as it does so often, got away from running the offense through O'Neal, who carried the first-half scoring load. O'Neal took just three shots in the period, eight fewer than he took in the first half, and made three. Bryant, meantime, hoisted eight attempts, with just three going in.
The ultimate evidence of the team shifting away from O'Neal, Los Angeles took just two second-half free throws after attempting 16 in the first half.
Jackson said he thought O'Neal might have been tired and that could of affected him getting into ideal position.
"I don't think a person going 13 for 16 if a sign of being tired by any means," O'Neal said.