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Published: Friday, 6/11/2004

Sweet win: Even Darko gets to play

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - You keep waiting for this so-called juggernaut known as the Los Angeles Lakers to put the upstart Detroit Pistons in their place. You keep waiting until it becomes intolerable to avoid the truth any longer.

When it comes to NBA dynasties and comparisons with Michael Jordan's Bulls, Isiah Thomas' Pistons, Larry Bird's Celtics, Showtime featuring Magic Johnson and even Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets, don't call us Lakers, we'll call you.

Phil Jackson's Lakers believe they can strut into any arena and play furiously when they feel like turning it on while leaving just enough time on the clock for their two superstars, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, to win any game, any time.

The Lakers' famous arrogance is what makes this year's NBA finals so fascinating because the Detroit Pistons have mastered a playing style the exact opposite of the Lakers.

Three games into the Finals, it's the Pistons who keep chugging along - pushing, fighting, scrapping for every point, rebound and loose ball. It's the Pistons who hold a 2-1 series lead following last night's 88-68 laugher at The Palace.

In a blowout enjoyed by Lakers haters everywhere, the Pistons never trailed. In fact, the Pistons were so dominant as they pulled away in the second half they had the Lakers acting like a bunch of scared fraternity pledges: "Thank you, sir. May I have another?"

The Lakers had no fight in them when it was over. They were done - wheat toast.

Other than complaining to officials about every call, they put up no fight at all.

Real dynasties don't shut it down when things get tough in the third quarter. They find a way to win. They remain competitive. They summon all of their competitive juices, and they get the job done.

The Lakers played like it was

Game 82 of the regular season. The Lakers looked like they wanted to be anywhere but Auburn Hills, Mich., in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Last night's performance is why people either love or hate the Lakers. They make it so easy either way.

When O'Neal is dunking and dominating, he can be an intimidating sight to behold. But Shaq was playing his third game in five days. After being on the court 94 out of a possible 101 minutes in Games 1 and 2, Shaq appeared to be having trouble carrying around those 350 pounds last night.

He wasn't dominant and he certainly wasn't intimidating. He was just a big, old center who was huffing and puffing up and down the court in 38 exhausting minutes.

As for Bryant, the Pistons put him on lock-down as soon as he stepped off the team bus.

The hero of Game 2, Bryant was a non-factor last night. Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton forced Bryant so far out of his comfort zone, he ended up in Lansing.

Bryant was 4-of-13 for 11 points after scoring 33 points in Game 2. Forty-eight hours later, his clutch 3-pointer sending the contest into overtime was a distant memory.

What about future Hall of Famers Karl Malone (injured knee) and Gary Payton (injured psyche), you ask?

Don't ask. Malone and Payton were both non-factors. Malone (five points, two rebounds in 18 minutes), however, had an injury excuse. Payton, who seems to become slower with each game, had another excuse-me performance (six points, seven assists in 35 minutes).

Detroit's star of the game was shooting guard Richard Hamilton, who scored 31 points and grabbed six rebounds in 43 minutes.

It was Hamilton who defended Bryant on his game-tying 3-pointer in Game 2. Last night Hamilton was the best player on the floor.

No one enjoyed the victory more than Detroit coach Larry Brown. Second-guessed by the national media for not fouling O'Neal or Bryant prior to Bryant's game-tying 3-pointer in Game 2, Brown joked, "I almost committed suicide on the flight back from L.A."

Brown had the last laugh, though, inserting little-used rookie Darko Milicic at the end of the blowout.

Boston Celtics legendary coach Red Auerbach used to light a cigar at the conclusion of each win. For one game, Milicic was Brown's victory cigar.



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