- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers — and the rest of the basketball-watching world, for that matter — know they can depend on Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in times of duress, a 1-2 punch unmatched in the league.

This is what they did last night against the Detroit Pistons in a 99-91 overtime victory that tied the NBA Finals at 1-1.

Bryant forced the game into overtime with a breath stealing 3-pointer, and then he and O’Neal combined to score all 10 of the Lakers’ points in overtime.

A loss could have been devastating to the Lakers’ hopes of winning their fourth championship in five seasons. Since the finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, no team has dropped the first two games of the series and gone on to win the title.

Game 3 is tomorrow in Detroit.

Detroit had trailed by 11 points in the third quarter. However, from the 6:05 mark of the third to the end of regulation, the Pistons outscored the Lakers 45-33 to force overtime.

After Detroit’s Chauncey Billups (27 points) missed a 9-foot jumper the Lakers, trailing by 89-86, called timeout and had one last chance at tying the game.

And as usual, Bryant delivered, swishing home a 3-pointer from 26-feet over the outstretched arms of Richard Hamilton (26 points) with 2.1 seconds to play.

Following a timeout, the Pistons tried to get the ball inside to Rasheed Wallace. But Wallace, guarded closely by Karl Malone, mishandled the ball and lost it out of bounds and regulation time expired.

The Lakers entered the game on somewhat shaky ground. They were coming off a performance in Game 1 in which they made just 39.7 percent of their shots. At the same time offensively challenged Detroit had no problem scoring, making slightly better than 46 percent of its shots.

After Game 1, Los Angeles point guard Gary Payton — invisible with just one basket — didn’t address the media. And on Monday, after blowing off the mandatory media session, Payton was hit with a $5,000 fine, thus providing at leas some of the drama the Lakers seem to always need to have in order to thrive

Last night neither team got off to an auspicious start as the game began looking very much in the manner the Pistons want to play. Play was sloppy as both teams combined to commit 10 turnovers.

The Lakers managed an 18-16 lead after one quarter despite making just 6 of 16 shots. The Pistons were an even more dismal 7 for 23.

The bad news for the Pistons was that the foul problems that plagued starting power forward Rasheed Wallace on Sunday re-emerged. Wallace, who still managed 14 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes in Game 1, picked up two in the first quarter and as a result saw just nine minutes in the first half.

Game 1 saw the Lakers get just four points from its bench. However, little-used Luke Walton gave the Lakers a jolt of energy early on. While Bryant and O’Neal combined for 25 of the Lakers’ points in the first half, Walton scored seven points and handed out five assists by halftime.

Placing and emphasis on defense going into last night’s game, the Lakers held Detroit to just one basket — a Hamilton 3-pointer — in the final 5:05 of the half, and outscored the Pistons 13-5 at the end of the half to lead 44-36.

O’Neal gave the Lakers their largest lead of the night when he powered in a dunk over Ben Wallace with 8:55 left in the third quarter that gave the Lakers a 52-41 lead.

This started to stir the mostly dormant sellout (18,997) in Staples Center, many of whom watched pensively as the Lakers were unable to play with any semblance of fluidity despite the lead.

And persistent Detroit gave them every reason to be concerned.

Detroit finally woke up offensively in the third, making 8 of 13 shots — including a trio of 3s — to score 30 points in the third, their best showing in any one quarter so far in this series.

Billups added 16 points in the third — including 12 in the final 4:42 — as the Pistons closed to within 68-66 to start the fourth quarter.

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