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Tuesday, June 8, 2004
Updated: June 9, 5:02 PM ET
Rookie makes an impact

By Joe Lago
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant hit the clutch 3-pointer. But Luke Walton made all the plays.

Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers' other savior.

"You can talk about my shot all night long," said Bryant, whose game-tying 3-pointer forced overtime in the Lakers' series-tying 99-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday. "But without Luke in the ballgame playing as well as he did, we would not be in that position."

Walton didn't get the assist on Bryant's big shot -- he merely got the ball from Shaquille O'Neal and was under orders to hand it off to Bryant -- but the fact Walton was even involved in the Lakers' biggest play of the season speaks volumes about the rookie's Game 2 performance.

In 27 hustling minutes, Walton stuffed seven points, five rebounds, eight assists and two blocks into a box-score line that didn't tell the entire story of how a 24-year-old rookie came off the bench and injected hope into a franchise that was teetering on the brink of a 2-0 series deficit.

It was a perfect night all the way around for Walton, who made all three of his shot attempts from the field.

"I love stuff like this," Walton said. "I've always loved big games, and I was just hoping that I would get my chance and Coach [Phil Jackson] gave me a chance tonight."

Walton entered the game with 3:30 left in the first quarter. He didn't take long to give the Staples Center crowd a reason to serenade the fan favorite with the chant of his first name, scoring on a layup in transition off a feed from Fisher.

Quite simply, the second quarter belonged to the third of Bill Walton's four hoops-playing sons.

Walton sank his one and only 3-pointer from the top of the arc for a 24-22 Lakers lead. Two possessions later, he grabbed a defensive rebound and navigated his way through all five Pistons for a layup just ahead of Tayshaun Prince's block attempt for a 26-22 advantage.

He had five points and three rebounds in the period, with all four of his second-quarter assists coming during a half-ending 15-6 run. His bounce pass to Shaq underneath the basket for a dunk prompted the fans to chant "Luuuuuuke!" again.

"It amazes me how he can give me the ball and guys that have been playing with me four, five, six years can't give me the ball," said O'Neal, cracking up everyone in the postgame interview room.

After his breakout second quarter, Walton couldn't wait to get back into the game. He ended up watching the entire third quarter from the bench.

"There wasn't enough time to get him in in the second half," Jackson explained. "[Assistant coach] Tex Winter was poking me from behind to get him back in the game. And fortunately we did."

Said Walton: "As soon as he called my name, I was sprinting to the scorer's table."

Walton returned with 10:20 remaining in regulation and never left the floor. He prevented Detroit from extending its lead past four points by blocking the shots of Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace.

In the overtime, Walton helped put the exclamation point to the Lakers' comeback. He passed up an open 3-pointer, dribbled and jump-stopped to loft an alley-oop that O'Neal slammed home for a 99-91 L.A. cushion with 1:22 remaining.

"Luke Walton was phenomenal tonight," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "He came in and gave them a huge lift."

With Karl Malone listed as day-to-day with a sprained MCL in his right knee -- the same injury he suffered in December -- Walton figures to keep playing a bigger role in the Lakers' push for a fourth championship in five seasons.

"He held his own," Jackson said. "He actually was the player of the game, really, for us tonight."

Joe Lago is the NBA editor for ESPN.com.