Kobe struggles along with rest of Lakers

Updated: June 11, 2004, 1:22 AM ET
Associated Press

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 4 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 5 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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press