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Wallace Helps Hold Off Rally of Old Foes

Former Trail Blazer has a 26-point, 13-rebound performance in the Pistons' victory.

June 14, 2004|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Pistons' route to a championship, if there turns out to be one, began four months ago, when team President Joe Dumars hung up the phone after executing a three-team trade.

Rasheed Wallace, of the Portland Trail Blazer teams that could never beat the Lakers in the playoffs, was put on a plane to Detroit on Feb. 19, plucked from brief obscurity after playing one game for the Atlanta Hawks.

The Pistons' prize acquisition stepped up to the dais Sunday after Game 4 of the NBA Finals, his headphones placed above his ears long enough to answer a few questions about a 26-point, 13-rebound effort in a win that has the Pistons, and Wallace, a game away from beating the Lakers.

Wallace, who announced Saturday he would no longer field questions on his failure to beat the Lakers in meaningful situations, gladly discussed Sunday's game, an 88-80 Piston victory.

"It was just my night," he said. "My shot was falling a little bit, so, hey, I've got to take that."

Wallace struggled offensively in the first three games of the Finals because of foul trouble that limited him to 29.7 minutes a game. He had played one minute in the second quarter in the series and was averaging 9.3 points after three games.

But he had contributed defensively, manning up with Karl Malone and sometimes Shaquille O'Neal, averaging 8.3 rebounds and supplying help on defense when needed.

"He hasn't been able to play a lot," Piston Coach Larry Brown said. "With that in mind, I think he has been great. We've won because of our defense and our rebounding and he's been a huge part of that. I've heard Kobe [Bryant] talk about it numerous times.

"Our length and our size in terms of being able to block shots and come over to help, it's been a huge factor and Rasheed has been that way."

Wallace played 41 minutes in Game 4, none more important than the final three.

With a nine-point lead and the shot clock winding down, Wallace hit a baseline turnaround jumper over Slava Medvedenko with 2:20 to play.

The Lakers weren't done, but neither was Wallace.

The Pistons' lead had been trimmed to six, but Wallace made a 14-foot jumper with a minute left to kill a Laker rally.

"We need him to play and to play major minutes, and I think tonight really showed his value," Brown said.

Wallace had nine points in the first half and went directly at Malone, who limped around on a balky knee and played four minutes after halftime.

"I knew Karl was a little hobbled, so that was one of the weaknesses in their defense, but that's something we had to attack," Wallace said.

Wallace won't display much compassion when it comes to the Lakers, who got the better of the Trail Blazers in the playoffs in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2002. The Western Conference finals in 2000 were particularly memorable, the Lakers beating Portland in Game 7 after a 15-0 fourth-quarter run.

Now the Lakers are a loss away from being on the other end against Wallace.

"Rasheed gives them a lot of confidence because he's been there before," Bryant said. "He gives them, defensively, a big presence. Offensively, he's able to spread the floor. He's been big for this team."

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