Pistons' finishing touch? A shooting touch

Updated: June 7, 2004, 11:37 AM ET
By Joe Lago | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Those jokes about the Detroit Pistons' inability to do the simplest of things -- like putting that round orange object into the orange rim -- don't seem so funny anymore to the locals.

"Hey, we don't care. As long as we win, people can make fun of us," Lindsey Hunter said. "They can talk about how it's ugly basketball. Who cares? We just want to win."

The Pistons won a trip to the NBA Finals by virtue of their stultifying defense, not a prolific offense. But their ability to sink perimeter shots was just as shocking as the 87-75 victory they scored over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 at Staples Center on Sunday night.

Chauncey Billups
APWhere Hamilton (left) struggled offensively, Billups picked up the slack.

The guys who couldn't shoot straight in Detroit's last series against Indiana were suddenly dead-eye shots.

  • Chauncey Billups, who had made four of his last 20 shots, made 8 of 14 attempts to score a team-high 22 points.

  • Ben Wallace, who discovered a shiny new jump shot against Milwaukee and New Jersey but lost it against the Pacers, sank two outside jumpers during a 4-for-8, nine-point night.

  • The Pistons' bench, which usually contributes meaningful minutes on the defensive end, responded by outscoring the Lakers' reserves 19-4. Elden Campbell came out of mothballs to lead all Detroit backups with six points.

    Detroit shot 46.2 percent (30 of 65) and made half of its 12 3-pointers. Both Billups and Rasheed Wallace had two threes each.

    Eighty-seven points? For the Pistons, that output is equivalent to the UNLV Runnin' Rebels circa 1990.

    "When we're passing the ball and we're moving the ball ... and we're running our plays and getting guys coming off screens and doing things right, we get good shots," said Tayshaun Prince, whose 3-pointer with 4:21 left pushed Detroit to a 79-70 lead and began the deflating of a Lakers comeback.

    "But it starts with our defense. If we play good defense and limit them to one shot, it kind of helps us on the offensive end."

    Ironically, the Piston who couldn't make a shot was Rip Hamilton, their leading scorer in the playoffs. Hamilton missed 11 of his 16 attempts from the field and finished with just 12 points, nine below his playoff average, but Billups helped make up for Hamilton's off night by rebounding from a horrid East finals in which he shot just 30.8 percent and averaged 12.7 points a game.

    "When you've got myself or Rip and the pick and roll, or you've got Rasheed setting the pick or (Mehmet) Okur hitting the jumpshot, (then) pick your poison," Billups said. "Either you trap me and leave one of those guys open or you let me come off and hope that everybody else helps. It's a tough play to play."

    "We needed somebody to step up, and he really did," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "He really delivered. He took great shots for the most part. He took one bad one and I got on him, like I always do."

    The Lakers now have another backcourt threat to worry about -- something Lakers coach Phil Jackson won't find humorous while trying to devise a game plan to even the series for Tuesday's Game 2.

    "I thought we did a good job on Hamilton, but Billups had us on our heels," Jackson said. "He got (Gary) Payton in foul trouble early and late, and we had a difficult time handling him on screen rolls. ... Their bench beat our bench in this game and we'll have to find a way to help that."

    Joe Lago is the NBA editor for ESPN.com.

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