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Published: Wednesday, 6/16/2004

Fantastic! Pistons super without stars against L.A.

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. The capacity crowd that stood on its feet and cheered unceasingly last night inside The Palace got what it wanted out of Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

They showed up early not only expecting to witness the Detroit Pistons finish off the Los Angeles Lakers in the best-of-seven series and claim the franchise s third NBA championship. They also filled the arena to express gratitude to a Pistons team intent on defying the odds against them winning this year s NBA title.

The hardworking Pistons didn t disappoint the most enthusiastic crowd in the NBA. They finished off the job by dismantling the Lakers, 100-87, to become one of the most surprising championship teams in NBA history.

Larry Brown, the 21-year NBA coach, became the first coach to claim win an NBA championship and an NCAA title (Kansas, 1988).

I think if you go into that [Pistons] locker room there s a lot of love in there, Brown said.

The Pistons entire starting lineup scored in double figures. Richard Hamilton led the way with a team-high 21 points. Ben Wallace scored 11 of his 18 in the first half and grabbed a game-high 22 rebounds. Tayshaun Prince added 17 points and 10 boards while Chauncey Billups, who was named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, came through with 14 points and a team-high six rebounds.

Billups became the first player to be named Finals MVP before being named an NBA all-star since Joe Dumars earned the honors when the Pistons won the 1988-89 title.

We just play team basketball and we believed in ourselves, Billups said.

Kobe Bryant paced the Lakers with a team-high 24 points on 7-for-21 shooting. Shaquille O Neal contributed 20 points and collected a team-high eight rebounds. Derek Fisher and Stanislav Medvedenko added 10 apiece, becoming the first two Lakers other than Bryant and O Neal to score in double figures in a game during the Finals series.

They played extremely well, Bryant said of the Pistons. They coached extremely well. They executed extremely well. They played hard. They deserved to win.

O Neal expressed similar thoughts about losing to a Pistons team that proved throughout the series they played better as a unit than the Lakers.

They just came out and played real good team ball and they played well and they flat-out beat us, O Neal said. Congratulations to them.

The celebrating basically began midway through the second half when the Pistons closed out the third quarter comfortably leading by 23 points after outscoring the Lakers 27-14.

The Pistons basically came out in that period and had their way with the Lakers. They stretched a 55-45 halftime lead into what amounted to an insurmontable advantage for a team that went through the regular season and postseason sporting the league s top defense.

Prince, the Pistons first-round draft pick last season, knew early in the contest they were clicking on all cylinders. There wasn t any doubt in his mind his team would finish out the series on its home court.

We just took it to them, Prince said.

We knew we could play with anybody in this league. I think we showed it tonight. They came out with everything they have [and] we kept fighting.

It was an all-around effort by everybody.

The victory made Detroit the first team in NBA Finals history to win the middle three home games since the Finals went to a 2-3-2 series format.

The victory also clinched for Pistons and Tampa Bay Lightnings owner Bill Davidson his second championship in less than a month. The Lightning won the NHL s Stanley Cup.

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com or 419-724-6302.



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