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NBA FINALS | Xs and O's / HENRY BIBBY

Lakers Didn't Look Ready for the Pistons

June 07, 2004|HENRY BIBBY

Henry Bibby has coached the USC men's basketball team for the last eight seasons, the highlight being the Trojans' advance to the Elite Eight in 2001. He was the point guard and an eventual All-American on three consecutive national championship teams at UCLA (1970-'72) and directed the Bruins to an 87-3 record as a starter. He played for nine seasons in the NBA, one of them with the title-winning '73 Knicks. He will serve as The Times' guest columnist for the NBA Finals.

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It was a night to praise the Detroit Pistons and criticize the Lakers. There are obvious reasons.

Larry Brown had an excellent game plan, and his team followed it nicely. Makes a coach proud when your team does that.

The plan was to give Shaquille O'Neal what he was going to get, which is always a lot. Then it was to make Kobe Bryant work hard, expecting him to also get what he was going to normally get, but to make him work hard to do so. Kobe is such a great player that he can get to the basket, make things happen that way. But he was settling for jump shots, and he isn't as effective with that. The Pistons caused that.

But the Pistons' plan looked like it worked almost perfectly in the third area: let the rest of the Lakers beat you. The other Lakers didn't do anything. They got four points from Karl Malone and three points from Gary Payton. These guys keep talking about what they signed up for when they came to the Lakers. Well, the Lakers sure didn't sign up for four and three points.

Devean George usually gets them something, makes a couple of big three-pointers. Nothing like that tonight. Derek Fisher was one for nine. What happened?

Let's talk about the Chauncey Billups matchup. Can the Lakers win that one? Sure didn't look like it in Game 1. This is what happened, and it is crucial for Phil Jackson and the Lakers to see this. Billups didn't have to play any defense. The guys he was guarding, Payton and Fisher mostly, weren't factors. He could save all his energy for offense. Fisher and Payton have to press him, fly at him. He worked so nicely off the pick-and-rolls that Brown created that he spent the entire night open. Nobody seemed to fight through them. Payton and Fisher have to step up more there. And on the other end, Billups could float because nobody he was guarding was doing anything.

Let's face it. The Laker bench didn't show. I thought what the Pistons got from Elden Campbell, Lindsey Hunter and Corliss Williamson was one of the big differences. If you are the Lakers, you simply cannot let Hunter come in and make big shots against you. And he did.

The Pistons came out, executed and played a near-perfect basketball game.

The Lakers? They were stagnant. The triangle? There wasn't any. It didn't exist. They spent the entire night looking for two guys, O'Neal and Bryant. The Lakers just weren't ready to play. And once you get to this level, everybody has to be ready to play.

I've been a huge Laker guy all season. I just can't see how anybody can be better than they are long term. And this was only one game. Lots of time left.

But I've also always said that the team that scores first wins most of the time. I'm not sure if anybody has ever done research on that, but I've always been big on that. So Rasheed Wallace steps up and gets a good pass and makes a three-pointer and I'm thinking, well, maybe this team can beat the Lakers.

I'm not sure exactly why, and only the Lakers would know this. But they looked a step slow. It looked like none of them were ready to play.

It was a strange game. They don't need 27 shots from Bryant. They can't let the Pistons score 87 points on them.

Pretty simple now. Back to the drawing board.

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