Pistons rip Los Angeles

Posted: Friday, June 11, 2004

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) When the entry pass floated inside to Shaquille O'Neal, Elden Campbell knocked it away and dashed downcourt. Richard Hamilton picked up the loose ball and flung it forward.

In a fourth-quarter play that symbolized the entire night for the Detroit Pistons, the 36-year-old Campbell caught the ball and went flying in for a left-handed jam, and the decibel level at the Palace went off the charts.

The dunk by the backup center gave the Pistons an 18-point lead on their way to a 88-68 victory Thursday night over the Los Angeles Lakers and a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals.

''I wouldn't say it buried them, but that was a big play at the time,'' said Campbell, adding it was his first breakaway dunk since he played in Charlotte more than two years ago.

The Pistons bounced back from their heartbreaking overtime loss in Game 2 with suffocating defense and opportunistic offense that whipped their fans into a frenzy.

Now, an NBA championship is very much within the Pistons' reach. No Eastern Conference team has won a title since 1998, but these Pistons are showing it may be a distinct possibility.

''I'm shocked,'' Pistons coach Larry Brown said, ''but I'm really proud of the way we played.''

Kobe Bryant, the hero of Game 2, was held without a field goal in the first half and the Lakers were limited to the lowest postseason point total in their storied franchise history.

''As I told the team, this is only one game,' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after the Pistons regained control of a series they've dominated for all but a few minutes. ''We have a couple days to get our feet on the ground and get ready for Game 4.''

Hamilton scored 31 points and Chauncey Billups had 19 as Detroit's backcourt gave the Pistons just about all the offense they needed. Throw in double-figure rebounding performances by Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace, three steals apiece from Campbell and Tayshaun Prince, and it all added up to a lopsided game that could even be called a mismatch in favor of the team that entered the series as huge underdogs.

''Most of it was effort related,'' O'Neal said. ''This is a tough challenge, but we are making it a lot tougher on ourselves.''

Game 4 is Sunday night at the arena where two championship banners hang in the north end zone.

And if form holds, this series might not even make it back to Los Angeles for a Game 6 or 7.

Nothing worked for the Lakers, from Bryant's offense to O'Neal's touch to Karl Malone's ailing knee to Gary Payton's slow feet.

Campbell's breakaway dunk put the Pistons ahead 70-52, and Los Angeles never mounted anything even resembling a concerted comeback effort. The crowd went wild with 2:10 remaining when little-used rookie Darko Milicic got off the bench for his series debut.

Bryant finished with just 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting and O'Neal scored 14. No one else on the Lakers scored in double figures.

''We never get down. That was a heartbreaker in Game 2, and people thought we would be flat, but we were even more hungry,'' Billups said. ''We just keep contesting everything. Tayshaun was great tonight contesting every shot Kobe took. The Big Fella is a problem for us, but Ben and Rasheed are down there working, and so is Elden.''

After O'Neal opened the second half with a dunk, the Pistons got the offense in gear and began to pull away. Billups scored nine points in the first four minutes of the quarter on a pair of 3s and a drive around Payton for a three-point play, and a follow dunk by Prince forced the Lakers to call timeout trailing 54-40.

Asked why the Lakers didn't get him the ball more, O'Neal replied: ''That's the story of my life, buddy.''

Bryant eventually hit his first shot with 7:35 left in the third quarter, making an 18-footer, but the Pistons answered back with a gorgeous display of passing as Prince fed Rasheed Wallace five feet from the basket, and he in turn threaded a soft toss to Ben Wallace for a layup.

More of the same followed, the Lakers growing increasingly frustrated by each botched possession, the Pistons becoming more emboldened by their ability to create quality shots. It was 63-51 after three quarters, and the lead grew to 20 before the fourth quarter was even four minutes old.

Campbell even added another deflection just moments after his breakaway dunk, and Lindsey Hunter turned it into a layup to make it 72-52.

''Well, I don't think we can defend better than we did tonight,'' Brown said. ''Hey, we held them to 68 points shooting 40 percent. For us that's an incredible accomplishment.''

Bryant scored only one point in the first half, missing all four of his attempts from the field and committing one egregious turnover when he fired a pass several feet over the head of a teammate and into the second row of the stands.

But as bad as Bryant was, the Pistons weren't much better especially in the second quarter. Detroit went 12 consecutive possessions at one point without a field goal and missed five free throws in the period to allow the Lakers to stay within striking range. The Pistons led 39-32 at halftime behind 14 points from Hamilton.

After wavering for two days on whether he'd play, Malone came out for the opening tip wearing a knee brace for the first time in his career. His mobility was obviously limited, however, and the Pistons outrebounded the Lakers 20-10 in the first quarter to open an early 13-point lead.

Notes: For the third time in the series, Rasheed Wallace sat out the entire second quarter after picking up his second foul late in the first quarter. ... On hand for a ceremonial jump ball were four members of the Pistons' Bad Boys championship teams: Rick Mahorn, Isiah Thomas, Vinnie Johnson and John Salley. ... The national anthem was sung by local R&B legend Anita Jones. Aretha Franklin is schedule to sing the Game 5 anthem, and Kid Rock will do it at Game 4.



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