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NBA FINALS / DETROIT VS. LAKERS / SERIES REPORT / PISTON
NOTES

Depth Is a Source of Pride

June 08, 2004|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The charter bus had barely started to roll out of its parking spot deep within Staples Center when Detroit Coach Larry Brown reminded his players of what happened here three years ago.

Brown, the Philadelphia coach at the time, mentioned how the 76ers had won the first game of the 2001 NBA Finals against the Lakers, only to lose four in succession, three in Philadelphia.

It seemed like an appropriate parallel Sunday night after Detroit had won Game 1, but the Pistons wanted nothing to do with it.

"Like a couple of people said on the bus, 'This is a different team. You're not in Philly anymore, you're in Detroit,' " guard Chauncey Billups said Monday afternoon.

Or, as forward Ben Wallace said, "We aren't the same crew. That Sixers team depended a little too much on how [Allen] Iverson's night was going. We've got different guys that can step it up at different times in the game."

Sixteen hours after beating the Lakers, the Pistons still appeared to be defending themselves before Monday's practice, acting mildly indignant, if not offended, when asked if they felt surprised by their 87-75 victory.

"Did we surprise ourselves? I want you to answer that question," Wallace said. "That's you all doing all that writing about our chances coming here. We just come out and do what we've been doing all year, just going out and playing basketball. No, we didn't surprise ourselves. This isn't the first time we beat this team."

The Pistons bristled in particular at suggestions that Game 1 went their way because of the Lakers' poor play more than anything else. They winced when hearing that Kobe Bryant missed 17 of 27 shots because he had an "off night," that Karl Malone and Gary Payton would bounce back for Game 2, that Derek Fisher couldn't possibly miss eight of nine shots again.

"I mean, you've got to give us some credit," said Billups, who scored 22 points. "We took those guys out of a lot of their sets and offensively we hit shots. So you can't discredit what we did."

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Richard Hamilton, the Pistons' leading scorer, had only 12 points on five-for-16 shooting Sunday, in a way adding to the Lakers' growing list of concerns.

"I think that's the great thing about it," Hamilton said. "They do a great job of trying to limit my touches, trying to deny me the ball, trying to trap me on screen-and-rolls and things like that. But that just shows you how deep a team we are. Tayshaun [Prince] came up big, Chauncey played an excellent game. Corliss [Williamson], Elden [Campbell] and Lindsey [Hunter] came off the bench. So when they try to focus on me, I think the guys did an excellent job of really stepping up."

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Billups, with his sixth team in seven NBA seasons, credited Piston President Joe Dumars for his recent success. Dumars, the MVP of the 1989 NBA Finals, signed Billups as a free agent before the 2002-03 season.

"[After] my early struggles in my career, I finally got into a situation where the management and the coaching staff, they have the same amount of confidence in me as I have in me," Billups said. "I haven't had that, and that's meant everything for me.

"Joe, he's just been fair. He believes in what I can do and he lets me know that. I haven't been around a guy like that that's in the front office since I've been in the league, so that's been beautiful for me just to have that stability."

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As NBA Finals go, the Pistons do a good job of beating the Lakers by 12 points in Game 1. In 1989, they won the first game, 109-97, on the way to a four-game sweep. In 1988, they won Game 1, 105-93, but lost the series in seven games.

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