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NBA FINALS: LAKERS 99, DETROIT 91 | J.A. Adande

This Kid Rocks as He Goes on Roll

June 09, 2004|J.A. Adande

Sounds the Detroit Pistons didn't want to hear:

* 19,000 fans in Staples Center chanting "Luuuuuke" and Luc Robitaille nowhere in sight.

* The postgame interview room moderator announcing "Luke Walton will be next."

Those were the noises that accompanied Luke Walton's breakout performance of the playoffs.

Better to judge by the sounds than the numbers, because the statistics weren't mind-blowing -- seven points, eight assists, five rebounds and two blocked shots in 27 minutes of play. But it was the timing of plays, the effect they had on the Lakers' 99-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons in Game 2 of the NBA Finals that led to these sound bites:

"Luke Walton was phenomenal tonight," Piston Coach Larry Brown said.

"He just came in and had a monster performance," said Laker guard Kobe Bryant, who sent the game into overtime on a three-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining.

"You can talk about my shot all night long, but without Luke in the game playing as well as he did, we wouldn't be in that position."

He even was the topic of postgame conversation between Shaquille O'Neal's mother and Denzel Washington's wife.

"Luke was all right," Lucille Harrison said. "He did good. I'm happy for him."

The sounds of success.

The funny thing is, Walton isn't much for words himself. He doesn't talk a whole lot, just enough to get his point across.

When Jack Ramsay first met him, Walton didn't say anything at all. Bill Walton brought his son, about 14 at the time, to an All-Star game and introduced the kid to the coach of Walton's 1977 NBA championship team. The father said Luke -- christened for the nickname of Portland teammate Maurice Lucas -- would be the best player of all his sons.

Ramsay asked Luke whether he was going to play in the NBA one day. Young Walton just nodded. A big, emphatic nod.

It takes that type of confidence to make an impact in the NBA Finals when you're a rookie who hasn't played in the previous two playoff games, and spent a total of eight minutes on the court in the four games before that.

Walton stayed sharp, working hard in the three-on-three games the reserves play after practice, then sticking around to take extra jump shots with shooting coach Bob Thate.

Still, there's a big difference between playing half-court games in a gym while the media concentrates on interviewing other players and being called upon to save a team from falling behind two games to none in the NBA Finals.

"Of course" he was nervous, Walton said.

"But I love stuff like this. I've always loved big games and I was just hoping I would get my chance."

OK, that's what he was thinking. But what was Coach Phil Jackson thinking, sending the kid into the fray with the Lakers trailing by a point late in the first quarter? We said Jackson needed to make a radical adjustment after the Lakers lost Game 1, and this was it.

"Maybe insanity is the best excuse," Jackson said. "I just needed somebody in there that could move the ball and had the ability to create things off the dribble. And Luke is a kid, a rookie. Of course you always worry about them getting calls offensively, having things happen right for them. And then, the other end of the floor, that they don't get overmatched defensively. But he held his own and actually was the player of the game, really, for us tonight."

The defensive end was the key. Normally, teams try to exploit Walton by posting him up with bigger players or trying to beat him off the dribble, and they force him out of the game.

At first, the Pistons went at him with Corliss Williamson. But Walton drew an offensive foul against Williamson, who pushed him away. He also forced a turnover when he jumped into the lane to help on Richard Hamilton, who lost the ball. In the fourth, he tipped away a layup by Hamilton.

By holding his own on defense, Walton could stay in to help the offense. He always has a knack for doing that with his ability to find the open man -- especially O'Neal.

"It amazes me how he can give me the ball and guys that have been playing with me four, five, six years can't give me the ball," O'Neal said.

Walton got the ball to everyone Tuesday night. He found Karl Malone, who was fouled and made two free throws. Then he dished to his buddy Kareem Rush for a three-pointer. He drove and reached around a defender to pass to O'Neal for a dunk. He also made a nice bounce pass in traffic to O'Neal for another slam.

Walton's final assist came on a pass to O'Neal. In overtime, the Lakers led by six with 1 1/2 minutes remaining when O'Neal passed to Walton in the corner. Walton dribbled down the baseline and just when it appeared he was going to get in trouble he threw a look-away alley-oop to O'Neal for a two-hand dunk that cemented the Lakers' victory.

Amid all the passing he managed to make all three of his shots -- on a pass from Fisher, an open three-pointer and a coast-to-coast layup off a defensive rebound.

The Lakers outscored the Pistons by three points after he entered in the first quarter, and went from a tie game to an eight-point lead when he came in for the final 9 1/2 minutes of the second quarter.

The fans serenaded him after every basket, every assist, every loose ball that he knocked to a teammate.

"LUUUUUKE."

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J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Adande, go to latimes.com/adande.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Reserve Cause

Luke Walton and Derek Fisher led all scorers coming off the bench with seven points each in Game 2 on Tuesday. A look at how the Lakers' bench played compared with Game 1 on Sunday:

*--* SUNDAY BENCH TUESDAY 1-12 FGM-A 7-14 0-4 3PM-A 4-7 2-2 FTM-A 1-2 6 REBOUNDS 13 4 ASSISTS 12 1 STEALS 2 0 BLOCKS 2 4 POINTS 19 3 PCT. OF OFFENSE 19.1

*--*

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