- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — In the end, the Detroit Pistons seemed like the team that couldn’t lose.

The Pistons clinched the title last night by beating the Los Angeles Lakers 100-87 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Detroit, just as it did throughout this series, spent the night doing whatever it pleased against Los Angeles, which entered both the season and the finals as the prohibitive favorite to ease its way to a fourth title in five years.

The Pistons clinched their first championship since the second of two consecutive titles in 1990 in dominating fashion, something that should come as no surprise to anyone who paid any attention to Los Angeles’ season-long implosion. Detroit became the first team from the Eastern Conference to win the championship since the Chicago Bulls in 1998.

“We took it to them. We knew we could play with anybody in this league,” the Pistons’ Tayshaun Prince said. “We just kept fighting.

“It was a situation that it was the last game for them. And we looked at it the same way — it was the last game for us.”

In front of a boisterous crowd of 22,076 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Pistons — who were not supposed to have enough offense to share the court with the Lakers — led by as many as 28 points in the second half before backing off, shot 46 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Lakers for the fourth time in five games 50-36.

Former Wizards first-round pick Richard Hamilton, traded for Jerry Stackhouse in 2002, led the Pistons with 21 points. Ben Wallace, another player traded away by the Wizards, dominated his matchup with Shaquille O’Neal last night, finishing with 18 points and 22 rebounds. Prince had 17 points and 10 rebounds, finals MVP Chauncey Billups had 14 points and the third ex-Washington player in the Pistons’ starting lineup, Rasheed Wallace, added 11 points.

The Lakers, who likely will be broken up before next season, put up less resistance last night than some of Mike Tyson’s opponents in the pre-Buster Douglas era.

Kobe Bryant, who now can turn his focus to his rape case in Colorado, led the Lakers with 24 points. O’Neal had 20 points and eight rebounds, and Stanislav Medvedenko, who started for the injured Karl Malone (knee), and Kareem Rush added 10 points each. They became the first players other than Bryant and O’Neal to reach double figures in the series.

“We had to play crucial parts of the game with our young kids because of the injuries,” Bryant said. “They gave a good effort, but [the Pistons] just played better. They played exceptionally well. They were coached exceptionally well. They are deserving of the championship.”

Pistons coach Larry Brown, who is with his seventh team in 21 NBA seasons, became the first coach to win both an NCAA and an NBA title. He led Kansas to the NCAA title in 1988.

Last summer, Pistons president Joe Dumars hired Brown after he resigned as the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. In a move that was deemed controversial at the time, Brown replaced Rick Carlisle, who was fired despite leading the Pistons to the Eastern Conference finals, but it paid off last night with a championship.

“I feel fortunate that I inherited a team that Rick Carlisle coached,” said Larry Brown. “This is a great team. [Owner Bill Davidson] and Joe assembled the right guys.”

Dumars probably sealed the title for the Pistons with another bold move at the trade deadline, acquiring the controversial-but-talented Rasheed Wallace from the Atlanta Hawks.

Davidson now owns the champions of the NBA and the NHL. His Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup last week.

Malone, who has appeared in 172 playoff games, sat on the bench in street clothes, out with his ailing right knee.

In his place, the Lakers turned to Medvedenko, who made his first start in the playoffs. He had the best start of any of the Lakers, making his first three baskets and scoring eight points in the first quarter.

The Lakers’ early problems were not so much an inability to score as not being able to stop the Pistons.

The Pistons made 64 percent of their shots in the quarter and overcame a seven-point Los Angeles lead to lead 25-24 at the end of the first.

With the Lakers leading 31-30 after a basket by Bryant with 8:58 to go in the half, Detroit started to amp it up against the seemingly lead-footed Lakers. Billups hit a reverse layup with 7:02 left in the first half to put the Pistons ahead by eight. Bryant answered with a pair of free throws, but the Lakers never got closer the rest of the game.

In fact, after O’Neal was forced to the bench with his third foul with 3:36 to go in the first half, the Pistons managed to get the lead as large as 12. Detroit took a 55-45 lead into halftime.

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