LOS ANGELES (AP) -- While the Lakers stumbled and strained
through the second half of their first home loss in the playoffs, a
few scattered cries eventually grew to a small chorus from the
"Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!"
That's easier shouted than done against the Pistons' stifling
defense -- and the Lakers have a whole new respect for the bruising
Eastern Conference champions after Detroit's 87-75 victory in Game
1 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night.
"I don't know if we could ever defend better," Pistons coach
Larry Brown said. "We contested shots. We did an unbelievable job,
and I think that's what it's going to take."
Kobe Bryant heard the chants, firing up 27 shots of mostly
dubious quality while scoring 25 points. But though Shaquille
O'Neal went 13-for-16 on the way to 34 points, he didn't get the
ball nearly enough in the second half.
"That's a good team, and we have to rise up and meet that
challenge," O'Neal said. "We know that now."
The Lakers' struggles also sparked another mini-controversy in a
season chock-full of them. Coach Phil Jackson said he thought
O'Neal looked tired in the second half.
"Tired of waiting," O'Neal responded. "I don't think a person
going 13-for-16 is a sign of being tired by any means."
Chauncey Billups scored 22 points for the Pistons, who weren't
much better on offense than the Lakers. But Rasheed Wallace scored
six of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, and Detroit poured its
energy into a defense that kept the ball away from O'Neal.
Though the Pistons have exactly six games of NBA Finals
experience on their roster, they were not intimidated by the
Lakers' star-packed crowd or the nine championship banners on the
arena wall. They still believe they're tough enough to end the
West's streak of five straight series victories in the NBA Finals.
"We're never scared," said playoff scoring leader Richard
Hamilton, who had just 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting. "We're going
to go out there and have each other's back."
Only an incredible defensive team could shut down the Lakers,
and the Pistons certainly put another chokehold on another powerful
opponent. They blanketed Los Angeles on nearly every possession,
forcing difficult passes and tougher shots by the sheer force of
Shaq scored nearly every time he got the ball low in the paint,
but the Pistons attacked Los Angeles' entry passes and also forced
O'Neal to commit six turnovers. He got just eight shots in the
second half, while Bryant missed 10 of his 15 -- and also clanged
consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to kill the Lakers'
last attempt at a rally.
O'Neal went 8-for-12 from the line, but didn't shoot a free
throw in the second half as the Lakers failed to find him
underneath. He still was angry after the game until getting a hug
and a kiss from his wife and daughter on the way out of Staples
The rest of the Lakers got no more than a handful of open looks.
From Ben Wallace's dangerous presence in the middle to Billups'
harassment of Gary Payton and Derek Fisher, the Pistons were all
over the Lakers.
By the final possession, the Lakers didn't even try: Payton
dribbled out the final 10 seconds of his first finals game since
1996 with pure disgust on his face.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night, with Game 3
in Auburn Hills on Thursday night.
"It's a seven-game series, and there's always Tuesday," Bryant
Payton and Karl Malone
, the Lakers' ringless duo, both went
scoreless in the first half. Malone had the worst playoff game of
his 19-season career, scoring four points on 2-of-9 shooting, and
Payton -- who had three points -- bettered his career playoff-low by
"Four points is terrible," Malone said. "My little boy can do
None of the Lakers' supporting cast scored more than five
points, while eight Pistons got at least that many. Except for
Hamilton's shooting struggles against the defense of childhood
rival Bryant, the game was almost ideal Detroit basketball.
"It's unbelievable the feeling we have right now, but there's
no way we can dwell on it," Billups said. "We have to come in
[Monday] and start worrying about Game 2."
The Lakers were held under 80 points for the fifth time in
the postseason -- and it wasn't even their worst offensive game. Los
Angeles scored a franchise-worst 71 points while losing Game 2 of
the conference finals in Minnesota. ... The Lakers wore their
Sunday-only white uniforms in the finals for the first time. ...
Kareem Rush, the hero of Los Angeles' series-clinching victory over
Minnesota last week, was scoreless in 16 minutes. Fisher was