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Kobe struggles along with rest of Lakers

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kobe Bryant, so brilliant in Game 2
of the NBA Finals, was downright mediocre in Game 3.

At best.

Two days after making one of the biggest shots in finals
history, Bryant was held without a field goal until the third
quarter and finished with only 11 points Thursday night as the Los
Angeles Lakers lost to Detroit 88-68 to fall behind 2-1.

The best-of-seven finals were tied 1-1 for the 32nd time this
year. Twenty-seven of the previous 31 winners of Game 3 went on to
win the championship.

"He had a hard time shooting," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
"This is a tough background to shoot in, it's a different one, and
the basket, he had a few things that didn't go down for him; didn't
get to the line too often."

Bryant shot 0-for-4 and scored one point in the first half. He
misfired on his first shot of the third period before making a
jumper from the right baseline, cutting Detroit's lead to 54-42.

By the time the third quarter was over, Bryant was 2-of-9 for
seven points and the Lakers trailed 63-51. His two baskets in the
fourth quarter came after the outcome had been decided.

"What it boiled down to is we didn't execute and we let them
rush us into decisions," Bryant said. "For the most part tonight,
I was attacking 30 feet from the basket. I mean, that's something
Phil and I talked about after the game is me not having to attack
30 feet from the basket, doing some things in our execution to give
me sharper opportunities and quicker opportunities."

Bryant's long 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left in regulation tied
Game 2 at 89 and forced overtime. He had two baskets and two
assists in the extra period as the Lakers outscored the Pistons
10-2 for a 99-91 victory.

Bryant shot 14-of-27 in scoring 33 points in Game 2. He was
4-of-13 in Game 3 along with 3-of-3 from the foul line with three
rebounds and five assists.

Not bad numbers, but certainly not Bryant-like superstar
numbers, either.

And the man he guarded, boyhood pal Richard Hamilton, scored 31
points.

Tayshaun Prince did most of the defensive work on Bryant.

"For the most part, I just try to use my length," Prince said.
"I've really been depending on (teammates) to get me help and when
he does take outside shots, just contest them."

Bryant had plenty of company in a horrendous performance by the
Lakers, who simply didn't look ready to play as the Pistons
consistently beat them down the floor and to the ball.

As poorly as the Lakers were playing, they trailed by only five
points after Shaquille O'Neal made a basket to begin the third
quarter.

That's when the Pistons took command.

After Prince scored, Devean George argued with an official after
missing a 3-pointer, claiming he was fouled. Hamilton took
advantage, racing downcourt and taking a pass from Chauncey Billups
to make an uncontested layup.

It was 60-44 with 4½ minutes left in the period when Jackson
went with a lineup of Bryant, rookies Luke Walton and Brian Cook,
Derek Fisher and Slava Medvedenko, and it worked briefly as they
went on a 7-3 run to draw within 12 points.

But the Pistons outscored the Lakers 9-1 to start the fourth
quarter for a 20-point lead.

Walton, so impressive in Game 2 with seven points, eight
rebounds and five assists, committed three fouls in less than 5½
minutes in the first half. He wound up with four points, two
assists and three rebounds.

The Lakers had no offensive rebounds in the first quarter, two
in the second -- both by O'Neal -- and one in the third -- by
Medvedenko. They finished with seven and were outrebounded overall
51-39.

Karl Malone, playing despite a possible torn ligament in his
right knee, had three points and four rebounds while playing 11
minutes in the first quarter, and two points and no rebounds in
seven minutes after that.

Wearing a brace, the 40-year-old Malone was taken out of the
game with 6:01 left in the third quarter and didn't return.