Guard averages 21 points, 5.2 dimes in series
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- After Chauncey Billups bounced around the league like a basketball, he found a home in Detroit.
Two years later, he was voted MVP of the NBA Finals.
Billups averaged 21 points and 5.2 assists for the Pistons against the Los Angeles Lakers in five stunning games.
"It's unbelievable," he said Tuesday night after Detroit won its first title since 1990. "I've dreamed of this opportunity all my life, and the way my career had gone, it seemed like my chance was kind of drifting away. But I never gave up."
Billups had 14 points and six assists as part of the Pistons' balanced attack in a 100-87 win over Los Angeles in Game 5.
"Yeah, baby!" Billups screamed after raising the MVP trophy over his head.
Billups, who hasn't been an All-Star during his seven-year career, is the lowest-profile player to be MVP of the finals since Boston's Cedric Maxwell in 1981.
The only other winner since then that wasn't a likely Hall of Famer was Joe Dumars, who led Detroit over the Lakers in the 1989 finals.
In fact, Billups is the first NBA Finals MVP without an All-Star appearance since Dumars, who played in his first All-Star Game in 1990.
Dumars, now the Pistons president of basketball operations, also is the man who gave Billups a place to call home before the 2002-03 season.
Billups' mercurial career in the league started after Boston took the former Colorado star third overall in the 1997 draft.
"Chauncey's career is a lot like mine," said Pistons coach Larry Brown, who has led 10 teams in 32 seasons. "I think I might have been a couple more places than him, but he's still been through a lot. A lot of people told him he couldn't do certain things. Joe believed in him, and this is a shining moment for him."
After being on four teams in his first three seasons, Billups became a solid player in Minnesota for two seasons. Then he signed a six-year, $35 million contract with the Pistons before the 2002-03 season.
"I just needed someone to believe in me because I knew I could do special things," Billups said.
Before Detroit started playing the Lakers in the NBA Finals, Billups was cocky about the Pistons' chances.
"We're ready to shock the world," Billups told The Associated Press on June 5, the day before Game 1.
He smiled when recalling his statement 10 days later.
"I wasn't lying," he said. "Nobody gave us a chance, but we felt we had a great chance. They had Shaq and Kobe, but we just felt we were a better team."
Billups has turned out to be everything Detroit needed, and more. That proved true during the regular season and especially in the finals.
In Game 5, Lakers coach Phil Jackson made Kobe Bryant the primary defender against Billups. That move slowed down Billups' scoring, but he showed he can be a pass-first point guard.
He had his least impressive game statistically in the title-clinching win, but he was at his best when the Lakers gave Detroit their best shot in the opening quarter.
In the first 12 minutes, Billups had five assists as Detroit led 25-24. He made the only shot he took, and connected on all four of his free throws in a six-point quarter.
He finished with 14 points on 3-of-5 shooting, making all eight of his free throws and adding six assists and three rebounds in 33 minutes.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press