Monday , Jun , 07 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Billups and Pistons shock Lakers

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) – Chauncey Billups scored a team-high 22
points to lead Detroit over the Los Angeles Lakers, 87-75, in the opener of
the NBA Finals at the Staples Center.

Rasheed Wallace added 14 points and eight rebounds for the Pistons,
who are appearing in the finals for the first time since 1990 when they
defeated the Trail Blazers. Detroit was the third seed in the Eastern
Conference and is 12-5 all-time in games played in the NBA Finals.

Shaquille O’Neal posted 34 points and 11 boards for the Lakers, who are
trying to capture their fourth NBA championship in five years. Los Angeles,
which was the second seed in the Western Conference, fell for the first time
in 10 postseason games as host this year.

Kobe Bryant netted 25 points in the losing effort for LA as he teamed up with
O’Neal to score 59 of the Lakers’ 75 points.

“We just have to play better as a team,” said O’Neal.

The Lakers led by one at halftime, but the Pistons outscored them 24-17 in the
third quarter and Detroit led the rest of the way. The Pistons started the
critical third with a 16-7 run to take a 56-48 advantage. Tayshaun Prince
capped off the spurt on a bucket near the seven-minute mark.

After three quarters of play, Detroit led 64-58. With a run which bridged the
third and fourth frames, the Pistons pushed their margin to 13. Lindsey Hunter
completed the burst on a three-pointer with 9:48 remaining in the game to make
it a 71-58 contest and the Pistons cruised to the victory from there.

The Lakers cut the deficit to six at 74-68 on two Bryant free throws with 4:37
remaining, but they could get no closer and never seriously threatened.

“I don’t know how we can defend any better,” said Detroit coach Larry Brown.

History repeated itself for Brown, who also won in LA against the Lakers
in Game 1 of the NBA Finals in 2001. However, the well-traveled coach
hopes this series produces a better outcome as Brown’s 76ers dropped the next
four to lose the set.

The Pistons outshot the Lakers 46 percent to 40 percent and caused 16
turnovers.

“We are just not happy to be here,” said Wallace.

This is a best-of-seven series with Game 2 scheduled for Tuesday at the
Staples Center. The championship round format, though, differs from the rest
of the postseason with the home team hosting the first two games, before going
on the road for three, not two.

The Lakers never led in the first quarter and trailed by as many as five at
20-15 with less than two minutes left.

However, O’Neal did his part in the opening 12 minutes with 11 points,
including all eight of the first LA points.

Despite the dominance of O’Neal, the Lakers trailed 22-19 heading into the
second.

But the Lakers took their first lead of the game early in the second.
Stanislav Medvedenko made a pair of free throws 56 seconds in that put Los
Angeles ahead 23-22.

The game remained close and Bryant scored the half’s final points on a driving
layup through traffic with 19.9 seconds left to give his team the 41-40
advantage at the intermission.

Detroit turned the ball over 10 times and made only 14-of-22 foul shots in the
first half.

O’Neal led the Lakers at halftime with 20 points, while Billups registered 11
for the Pistons.

Karl Malone and Gary Payton, who both came to Los Angeles this season in hopes
of winning their first championship ring, were held scoreless in the first
half.

The 40-year-old Malone previously appeared twice in the championship round
(1997, 1998) with the Utah Jazz, while the 35-year-old Payton played in the
finals in 1996 as a member of the Seattle SuperSonics. Both players fell in
six games to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls each time they played for
the title.

Malone finished with just four points, but grabbed 11 rebounds, while Payton
ended with only three points.

Richard Hamilton scored 12 points for Detroit, but shot just 5-of-16 from the
field.

“If (Hamilton) is not rolling, someone else steps it up,” said Billups. “It is
nothing new to us.”

This is the third time that the Lakers and Pistons are meeting in the NBA
Finals. In 1988, the Lakers defeated the Pistons in seven games to win the
title for the second consecutive season. In 1989, Detroit won the first of its
two championships as it swept the Lakers.

During the regular season, the teams split a pair of contests. The Lakers beat
the Pistons, 94-89, at the Staples Center, while Detroit knocked off LA,
106-96, at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

DET LAL