The one that got away

Updated: June 9, 2004, 5:12 AM ET
By Dr. Jack Ramsay | Special to ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- The Piston's 99-91 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals is a huge emotional blow for Detroit.

The Pistons let this one get away. With a good lead, they had time on the shot clock for either a high-quality shot or to get themselves to the free-throw line -- they did neither.

On a couple of occasions, Chauncey Billups penetrated on his own when he should have used the screen-and-roll that was good to them throughout the game. But Detroit never got to it down the stretch.

A win would have put the Pistons back in the driver's seat as they head home. Now, they'll return to Detroit with the series evened up. Sure, it's always good to get at least one win on the opposing team's court, but missing a golden opportunity to go home with a two-game lead is tough to get over.

I doubt the Pistons will ever forget this loss, but they now have one day to shake it off and get back to form. After losing a game of this emotional magnitude, a quick turnaround can oftentimes be a good thing because there's less time to linger on the loss.

They've got to respond on their home court by playing the kind of game they've proved can beat the Lakers: good defense, a lot of screen and roll opportunities for Billups, and getting Richard Hamilton on curls off the baseline screens.

In Game 2, Hamilton showed that he could get open and score, Billups proved that that Lakers have yet to find a way to stop him, and Rasheed Wallace stepped his game up to another level. If the Pistons analyze the finer qualities demonstrated in the first two games, they'll realize they can still win the series.

Meanwhile, having won a game that would have buried them, the Lakers have to be on "Cloud Nine." Kobe Bryant was sensational down the stretch, creating plays, making shots for himself and passing to Shaquille O'Neal.

But L.A.'s real hero was Luke Walton, whose overall performance was a game-saver for the Lakers. Walton resuscitated the Lakers when they were dead in the water in the first half, and again down the stretch by making good plays and setting some of the screens that allowed Kobe to penetrate and get his shots.

While the Lakers have been revived, they still have question marks in Karl Malone's physical status and Gary Payton's level of play. Even Shaq seemed to be less resilient and quick off the floor than usual.

After the game, I overheard an interview between Fred Carter and Shaq. When Fred mentioned that Shaq didn't seem to have his legs, the big man responded, "No, I can play forever."

Certainly, he'll have to be at his best. So will Kobe, who is always full of energy. But the real key will be the "someone else" who steps up, much the way Luke Walton did in Game 2.

Dr. Jack Ramsay, an NBA analyst for ESPN, coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Legendary coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay served as lead game analyst for The NBA on ESPN Radio. He also contributed to ESPN.com and ESPN The Mag.

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