DAR Sports Retrospective: 2004 NBA Finals- Pistons vs Lakers

By @TrueGodImmortal

There are moments where the underdog succeeds in spite of the odds stacked against him. There are moments where a dynasty falls and fails unexpectedly. In 2004, both of these things occured.

The stage was set for something big. The Lakers had the perfect run planned out. They signed legendary veterans Gary Payton and Karl Malone for a very good number, with the idea being that the Lakers get back to the finals and get another championship. It seemed like destiny. Malone and Payton finally get a ring. Shaq and Kobe would get their 4th ring in 5 seasons. It was built like the perfect scheme and plan.

The Pistons had built a formidable team, with coach Larry Brown guiding them along the way. This would not be the first time Brown coached a team against the Lakers in the finals, as he was head coach for the 76ers in 2001 when they went against the Lakers. The Pistons excelled defensively with the right pieces added to the team and finished the 2003-2004 regular season with a 54-28 record to claim the 3rd seed in the East. Their road to the finals was a tough one, as they easily defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in 5 games, but got pushed to 7 games against the New Jersey Nets, and won a 6 game series against the no. 1 seed Indiana Pacers.

The Lakers would start off their regular season with dominance, going 18-3 in the first 21 games, but finished the season with a 56-26 record to claim the 2nd seed in the West. As the playoffs began, the Lakers were showing a bit of fatigue from the regular season, but managed to defeat the Houston Rockets in 5 games, the San Antonio Spurs in 6 games, and the no. 1 seed Minnesota Timberwolves in 6 games as well. The NBA Finals were set.

The starting lineup for the Pistons consisted of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and Ben Wallace. The Lakers would have a starting lineup of Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Devean George, Karl Malone, and Shaq. On paper, this seemed like a mismatch and a guarantee that the Lakers would win another championship. However, how it looks on paper doesn't equal out to the team chemistry, youth, and depth on the bench. We would soon learn this as the series began.

Game 1

The Lakers had the home court advantage, and were poised to win their 4th title in 5 seasons, but the Pistons defense proved to be way too much for the Lakers. The Pistons couldn't hold Kobe and Shaq, as they scored 25 and 34 points respectively, but the Pistons held the rest of the entire team to just 16 points and took the game away in the second half, opening up a double digit lead and never looking back again. Billups would finish with 22 points for the Pistons, while both Rasheed and Ben Wallace would pull down 8 rebounds each to lead them to a 87-75 game 1 victory.

Game 2

Some of us thought that the Pistons victory was merely a fluke, and that the Lakers would come back to dominant the rest of the series. The Lakers came to play in game 2, getting out to a good lead early, before the Pistons started to take over some near the end of the game. The Pistons had a 3 point lead with just seconds left and attempted to foul a Lakers player to avoid them taking a three, but Kobe comes through in the clutch, getting off a 3-point shot with 2.1 seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Lakers would then takeover in OT, winning the game 99-91 on the strength of Kobe's 33 points. Billups had 27 points and 9 assists, while Ben Wallace pulled down 14 rebounds for the Pistons. The series was tied 1-1.

Game 3

In the first NBA Finals game at The Palace of Auburn Hills since 1989, the Pistons completely dominated game 3 and held the Lakers to a franchise record of their lowest number of points scored in a playoff game. The Pistons responded to their game 2 loss with a 20 point victory over the Lakers, 88-68 and managed to hold Shaq to just 14 points. Rip Hamilton would score a game high 31 points, and Ben Wallace would pull down 11 rebounds, as the Pistons would take a 2-1 series lead.

Game 4

The Lakers attempted to respond in game 4, and while Shaq dominated with 36 points and 20 rebounds, the rest of the team didn't play hard enough. Kobe shot terribly, but still managed to finish with 20, and the Pistons would keep the rest of the team to just 24 points with their solid defense. Rasheed Wallace would step up and have a big game for the Pistons with 26 points and 13 rebounds as the Pistons took a decisive 3-1 series lead with a 88-80 game 4 victory.

Game 5

The Lakers had seemed defeated going into game 5. They had no answers for the Pistons defense, and the Lakers were virtually a two man show the entire finals, with Kobe and Shaq carrying them despite having two hall of famers like Gary Payton and Karl Malone there. Malone and Payton were ineffective the whole series, and Malone missed game 5 with an injury. Taking advantage of the bad chemistry and such, the Pistons would take game 5 and the NBA Title with a 100-87 win to clench the series 4-1. Chauncey Billups would end up as NBA Finals MVP as the Pistons got to celebrate on their home court.

The Lakers would totally implode in the offseason, as coach Phil Jackson left the team(he returned the next season), Shaq was traded, Karl Malone retired and Gary Payton was traded. The Lakers dynasty was dead. For the time being, at least. The Kobe and Shaq era was over, and the Pistons played a huge part in that.

Your 2004 NBA Champions, the Detroit Pistons.



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