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Men From Motor City Had More Horsepower

June 16, 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 is The Times' guest columnist for the NBA Finals.


Well, I guess you can't fool all of the people all of the time, unless you happen to be the Detroit Pistons.

Maybe it was just those of us in the West, who saw the Lakers all the time, and who started to listen to each other and believe each other.

The formula for this title was simple. Whoever gets through in the West, be it Sacramento or San Antonio or Minnesota, would then walk away with the NBA title against whatever inferior opponent the Eastern Conference sent.

Then along came the Pistons and Coach Larry Brown. People out West don't see enough of that style basketball to know or respect it. Or maybe we didn't pay enough attention, caught up as we were in Laker lore.

The Pistons turned out to be the epitome of the word "team." They play physical basketball in the East, but this was more than that. The Pistons were deeper. They were lots of things.

They came with a plan, Brown's plan. And they stuck to it. They were more unselfish. The could go five-six-seven players deep.

Look at Tuesday night's game. You hardly heard from Chauncey Billups, and he was the star in the earlier games. Instead, you have Tayshaun Prince turning into an offensive player, and Ben Wallace. Yes, Ben Wallace. He is a prime example of what this team was. He is not a scorer, but he was an opportunist. That certainly was the case Tuesday night.

Overall, I think the Western Conference is better, but in this series, Detroit improved with every game.

This is what I think happened. The Pistons came to L.A. to open the Finals with one thought -- win one of the first two games against this legendary, walk-on-water Laker team. Somehow, some way, just win one.

Then they did that, winning the first one. But the second game, the one they had stolen from them when Kobe Bryant made the three-point basket to force overtime, stunned them but also convinced them that they could beat the Lakers.

At this point, they certainly weren't intimidated, were they? It was almost, after that, and the rout in Game 3, that they knew it was just a matter of time. All they had to do was convince the rest of us, watching here in L.A., still heavily in denial.

OK, we're convinced.

A couple of other things need to be added:

* The loss of Karl Malone was huge. The Lakers had two of the NBA's greatest players in Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant, but that was all. After Malone showed he couldn't do it, that he was too injured, the Pistons went seven or eight on two, and the Lakers' two wore down.

* The manner in which Brown finished Game 5, coaching his heart out to the end, was gratifying to see, especially to another coach. We all know you don't stop coaching, even when you have a game like this one won long before it is over.

But he never broke a smile, never stopped being a professional and never showed up the other team. He didn't take one moment, one instant, to celebrate until it was truly over.

What a classy guy.

He had a team that was a coach's dream to coach. But then, this team had a team's dream coaching it.

* As for Phil Jackson, I think he has a lot of coaching to do. Why not? He has talent to build on. He needs to keep Bryant and O'Neal and Derek Fisher. They are the heart and soul of the Lakers.

* Bryant is an L.A. guy. The only other place that would work for him is New York City. In my opinion, other than here and New York, he wouldn't want to play anywhere else.

* I don't think this Laker team and franchise will fall off the cliff after this one, not as long as it keeps two of the greatest players in NBA history and makes some moves around them.

Maybe the Lakers even learned something from this series about the value of a team concept. That's what did it in these Finals.

We all expected some sort of return to Showtime. Instead, we got old-fashioned, team-concept, share-the-duties basketball.

Call it Pistontime.

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