Detroit has chance to gain firmer grip

Originally Published: June 12, 2004
Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- In the previous two rounds of the playoffs, the Detroit Pistons had a chance to a take a 3-1 lead.

Each time, the Pistons came out flat, losing to Indiana and New Jersey.

They insist lessons have been learned from their lackluster effort in their past two Game 4s.

"We're not going to have a letdown. I can't see that," Corliss Williamson said Saturday. "If we do, we're going to be fighting in the locker room."

With a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals, Detroit will host the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday at The Palace.

"We've got a game that is probably the most pivotal game of the series, and we understand that," said Chauncey Billups, who is averaging 22.7 points and 5.3 assists in the finals. "We're confident, but we know that in actuality, we haven't done that much yet."

The Pistons have plenty of incentive to beat the Lakers in Game 4.

Of the 154 teams that have trailed 3-1 in the NBA playoffs, just seven have rallied -- and it has never happened in the Finals.

"If you go up 3-1, of course you're going to taste what it might feel like to win a championship because you're only one game away and you have three shots to win one," Williamson said. "The odds are in your favor, but until that times come, you really can't talk about that."

The Pistons know it's not safe to discuss 3-1 series leads based on what happened against the Pacers and the Nets.

With a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, the Pistons lost to Indiana 83-68 at home.

After winning the first two games of the conference semifinals, Detroit lost the next two at New Jersey by an average of 16.5 points.

"We came out flat," Williamson said of the past two Game 4s. "We weren't energized. We weren't sharing the basketball. We thought we could just show up and we'd win, and the other team would fold and go home.

"They hit us in the mouth first, and we didn't respond well. We have to draw from those experiences."

As raucous as their crowd is, and as tough as they are defensively, the Pistons have not been unbeatable at home.

In each of Detroit's three series -- against Indiana, New Jersey and Milwaukee -- it lost a game at The Palace.

That's part of the reason the Pistons are not cocky after beating the Lakers by 20 points in Thursday's Game 3.

"It is a concern, I think, of every coach, especially after you have a big win against a great team to all the sudden forget that they are a great team," Brown said. "And maybe, lose sight of why we won."

Brown believes the Lakers, who are going for their fourth title in five years, are set to play their best game of the series.

"They're still the same team that won championship after championship and has overcome some obstacles successfully this year," Brown said. "I got to make sure we understand that."

Even though the Pistons are disappointed in their effort after leading 2-1 in the last two rounds, they're proud of what happened next.

After falling behind 3-2 to the Nets, Detroit won a game few thought they would -- at New Jersey -- before blowing out the Nets in Game 7.

They followed up a loss against Indiana in Game 4 with a win on the road before wrapping up the series back at home in Game 6.

"This team can bounce back from a tough loss," Williamson said. "But we know how much pressure that put on us to go on the road and win that next game. We know what type of situation we let slip through our fingers.

"We don't want to do that again. We want to prove that we can deal with prosperity."

The Pistons say they will be a different team with a 2-1 lead this time. They said the same thing last series, so why should we believe them now?

"We're hungry. This is the finals," Richard Hamilton said. "This is not the conference semis, or anything else. It's a different feel now. Everybody is watching."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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