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THE NBA FINALS: DETROIT 88, LAKERS 68

Hamilton Gives Payback to Bryant

June 11, 2004|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Score one for Coatesville.

Two days after failing to stop Kobe Bryant from scoring one of the biggest baskets in recent Laker history, Richard Hamilton got back at his high school nemesis.

After offering up two so-so games in the Finals, Hamilton carried the Detroit Pistons to an 88-68 victory and got the latest laugh in an engaging rivalry with Bryant that dates to their head-to-head matchup in the 1996 Pennsylvania state playoffs.

Bryant won that one -- Lower Merion High eliminated Coatesville at the Palestra in Philadelphia -- and had since taken a significant share of their meetings, but Hamilton hung 31 points on Bryant in Game 3.

Hamilton had scored a total of 38 points in the first two games of the NBA Finals, but he made 11 of 22 shots Thursday and forced Bryant to spend extra effort on the defensive end. Not coincidentally, Bryant had only 11 points, his lowest-scoring playoff game since he had eight in Game 5 of the 2000 NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

And to think Piston Coach Larry Brown said in a brief halftime interview that he wanted to "strangle" Hamilton because he thought his shooting guard was trying to go one-on-one too often.

Hamilton laughed about it afterward.

"Coach was telling me to slow down," he said. "He makes me see the game at a whole new different level. That's the one thing I respect about him because he's not going to let me go out there and do what I want to do. Sometimes it's harsh and sometimes I get upset and he gets upset. But for the most part, he's just doing that to help me."

Hamilton has remained surprisingly low-key in the Finals, refusing to get drawn into a battle of words with Bryant, who compared his three-pointer over Hamilton late in Game 2 to the time he beat Hamilton in the state playoffs.

Hamilton learned humility several years ago, his career going the opposite direction of Bryant's until now.

Hamilton's first three seasons in the league came on teams that were a combined 76 games under .500. He was saved from further toil on the Washington Wizards when he was traded to the Pistons in September 2002 as part of the six-player Jerry Stackhouse deal.

But Hamilton had never been able to trump Bryant, and was held to 20 total points in two regular-season games against the Lakers this season, a pattern that continued through the first two games of the Finals.

Then came Thursday.

Even Bryant noticed.

"He got into a groove, got some breakout opportunities and he was able to get his jump shot going," Bryant said. "He was in a good flow tonight."

Before the Finals, the Lakers equated Hamilton to Reggie Miller, a pain in the Lakers' side in the 2000 Finals because he dragged scores of defenders through multiple screens.

But, in the big-picture sense, Hamilton could turn out to be more than that: Indiana, after all, never held a 2-1 series edge on the Lakers.

Hamilton talked about the importance of putting the team first, learning quickly from Brown's halftime words.

"We did a great job of playing connected," he said. "We shared the ball. Everybody held each other's back on the defensive end. I think guys did a great job tonight of really playing together."

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