Detroit's Richard Hamilton looks over the Lakers' Stanislav Medvedenko. Hamilton scored 31 points but it was the Pistons' suffocating defense that stopped Los Angeles, which was held to its lowest playoff output in team history.
MICHAEL CONROY / AP Enlarge
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Detroit's response to a major meltdown against Los Angeles in Game 2 of the NBA Finals resembled that of a team possessing championship character.
The Pistons, clicking on all cylinders, led from start to finish on their way to pummeling the Lakers 88-68 last night before a frenetic sellout crowd at The Palace.
Detroit takes a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
With a number of the original Detroit "Bad Boys" on the scene, including Isiah Thomas, John Salley and Vinnie Johnson, the best group of Pistons to play on the Palace floor since the back-to-back NBA title teams of the late 1980s, the Pistons played like champions.
Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups led the way by combining for 50 points. Hamilton finished with a game-high 31 points.
Billups delivered 19 to help Detroit's starting backcourt outscore the Lakers' backcourt of Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton 50-17.
"We watched the film [from Game 2] and said, 'Let it go,'●" Billups said. "We came out really aggressive today. It really was a combined effort from everybody."
Bryant, who didn't record his first field goal until the third quarter, finished with 11 points
on 4-of-13 shooting while playing a team-leading 45 minutes. Payton ended up with six points. Shaquille O'Neal finished with a team-high 14 points, but only two in the second half.
"They played excellent defense and we didn't execute," Bryant said. "That's basically it.
"Offensively, they shot the ball well."
The Pistons also continued to play the kind of defense that made them statistically the No. 1 defensive team in the league. With Ben Wallace grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds and Rasheed Wallace adding 10, the Pistons outrebounded the Lakers 51-39. The Pistons grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and outscored L.A. 16-3, in second-chance points.
Tayshaun Prince, who had the assignment of guarding Bryant, came through with 11 points and six rebounds.
Game 4 will take place on Sunday at The Palace. The Pistons can clinch the championship by winning the next two games set to take place on their home court.
"We have to look at it as one game at a time; actually one quarter at a time," Billups said.
The Pistons led 39-32 at halftime.
The Lakers were held to 16 points in each of the first two quarters while making only 13 of 37 shots (35 percent). More significantly, Hamilton and Billups combined for 22 points in the first half while Bryant and Payton went through the first half without making a single field goal.
Bryant sank a technical foul shot midway through the second quarter to account for his only point in the half.
Hamilton, who struggled with his shooting during the first two games in L.A., knocked down five of his 10 shots in the first half to end up with 14 points by halftime. Billups, who carried the Pistons' offense during Games 1 and 2, came through with eight by intermission.
The Pistons took charge right from the start by opening the game with an 8-0 lead. They completed the quarter with 24-16 lead.
Detroit, which never trailed in the first half, led by as much as 13 points in the second quarter. Hamilton and Billups scored 10 of Detroit's 15 points during the quarter.
However, the Lakers kept within striking distance. O'Neal produced 12 first-half points.