Lakers 99, Pistons 91
Just a few more minutes was all the Los Angeles Lakers needed, just a few. The four quarters of regulation were not enough to show what they were capable of, so guard Kobe Bryant, whose catalog of incredible shots just grew thicker, hit a deep three-pointer from the left wing with two seconds remaining to send Game 2 of the NBA Finals into overtime.
There, with that extended breath of life, the Lakers finally took control and defeated the Detroit Pistons, 99-91, Tuesday night at Staples Center to send the best-of-seven series to Detroit for the next three games tied 1-1.
Bryant scored four of his 33 points in overtime, in which the Lakers outscored a clearly deflated Pistons team 10-2. Shaquille O'Neal had the other six for Los Angeles. Detroit led 89-83 with less than 35 seconds remaining in regulation.
The decisive shot came after Los Angeles rebounded a missed nine-footer from Detroit guard Chauncey Billups and, during a timeout with 10 seconds left, set up an inbounds play in which Bryant ran through a series of screens before taking the ball and settling into Michael Jordan mode. Down three points, the clock moving, Bryant stared down Richard Hamilton, rose, then rejoiced after tying the game at 89.
"That was probably the biggest shot I've ever hit," Bryant said. "I'd have to rank that second in my career overall. The best was the shot I hit over Rip in high school."
Bryant's Lower Merion team knocked off Hamilton's Coatesville High team in the Pennsylvania state playoffs.
Said Hamilton: "It's tough to take it, especially when you had the lead. You have to give him credit. He made a big shot."
The Pistons called a timeout, botched an inbounds play, then struggled through the extra period.
"We always believe that Kobe can make miracle shots even when things are not going well for him," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "That was a great shot."
At the outset of overtime, O'Neal (29 points) threw down a monster dunk to set the tone.
The Pistons, who got back into the game with poise and tenacity in the third quarter after being down 11, unraveled, missing shots and turning the ball over.
"We got in overtime and lost our poise," said Pistons Coach Larry Brown. "We're crushed. We had a winnable game. We came here and should have won two games. Gave ourselves a hell of a chance. We've lost a lot of games like this this year. We forget time and score."
Now Detroit has to steel itself for a Lakers team that has a history of finding itself after early postseason losses, winning four straight over Philadelphia after losing the series opener in 2001 and running off four in a row over San Antonio after dropping the first two games of this season's conference semifinals.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, knows this one win might not necessarily be a catalyst to a string of easy wins. Detroit excelled until Bryant gave the Lakers another shot.
Though Bryant staged the heroics and O'Neal proved dominant once again, backup forward Luke Walton provided seven points, eight assists, five rebounds and a timely burst of energy that allowed him to remain on the floor in crunch time. Forward Karl Malone, who aggravated his sprained right knee, scored nine points.
Billups led Detroit with 27 points. Hamilton added 26. Center Ben Wallace added 12 points and 14 rebounds and forward Rasheed Wallace added 11 points.
With a late second-quarter surge and playing with their typical fluidity early in the third quarter, the Lakers seemed ready to roll. However, Billups regained his Game 1 form and scored 12 points in the final 4 minutes 42 seconds of the third period to pull Detroit to 68-66 after it trailed by 12 midway through the period.
A basket by Hamilton early in the fourth quarter knotted the score at 68-68.
Lindsey Hunter's ensuing three-pointer put Detroit up 71-68, giving it its first lead since 28-27. But before the Pistons could begin feeling good about themselves, Kareem Rush started a 7-0 run to give Los Angeles a 75-71 edge.
Detroit countered with four straight points to tie the score and, in the process, managed to draw a fifth foul on O'Neal with 6:17 left, forcing him to take a seat. The Pistons capitalized, answering a Bryant runner with six straight points, the final two coming on an incredibly athletic one-handed jam from Ben Wallace, to go up 81-77 with three minutes remaining. But the Lakers would not go away, and now the series shifts to Detroit all even.