Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2004 [Print without images]

Monday, June 14, 2004
Point guard beating L.A. to the punch

Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The shortest starter in the NBA Finals has been just as unstoppable as the tallest.

While the Detroit Pistons do not have an answer for 7-foot-1 center Shaquille O'Neal, the Los Angeles Lakers can't slow down 6-3 point guard Chauncey Billups.

Billups scored 23 points to help Detroit beat the Lakers 88-80 Sunday, and take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven championship series.

He is averaging 22.8 points in the series -- on 50 percent shooting -- second only to O'Neal's average of 28.3 points.

Billups has found himself open countless times on pick-and-roll plays, and one-on-one moves against Gary Payton and Derek Fisher over the first four games.

"I'm getting great shots that are my shots, and a lot of times, they are not even contested,'' he said. "I feel like if I can get those looks, I'm supposed to knock those down. I'm a shooter. I'm a scorer. That's what I do.

"I just hope they continue to play like that, and we'll continue to run a lot of the same sets.''

If Detroit can win one more game, perhaps Tuesday at home, the Pistons will be champions for the first time since 1990 and the third time in franchise history.

Before the series started, Billups was confident in Detroit's chances despite the team's underdog status.

"We're ready to shock the world,'' Billups said a day before Game 1.

Billups said the Pistons were happy when they got to their locker room after Game 4 because they thought it was the biggest game of the series. But they didn't get out of hand with joy because they still respect the Lakers, who are going for their fourth title in five years.

"We just said, `We're not there yet,''' Billups said. "We're playing against a team that has been here plenty of times. They are not going to panic. They are going to come out and play, obviously with a sense of urgency on Tuesday.

"There's not time to celebrate.''

Scoring a lot of points against the Lakers is nothing new for Billups.

In two regular-season meetings this season, he had a combined 53 points -- 33 more than any of his teammates -- on 53.1 percent shooting.

In both of those games, Billups didn't have Rasheed Wallace as a teammate. He clearly did Sunday.

Each time the Lakers tried to come back in the fourth quarter, Billups or Wallace seemed to make a big play.

Wallace scored a playoff-high 26 points, and one of his biggest baskets came on an alley-oop pass from Billups early in the final quarter after Los Angeles cut its deficit to two points.

After Wallace pulled the Lakers within three midway through the fourth -- twice -- Billups answered with 3-pointers to provide a cushion.