By Ron Griffitts
In June 2004, the Detroit Pistons (54-28) coached by Larry Brown and with former Piston star and 1989 finals’ MVP Joe Dumars as general manager, met the Los Angeles Lakers (56-26) still coached by Phil Jackson with general manager Mitch Kupchak.
The Pistons had dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks (4-1), New Jersey Nets (4-3), and the Indiana Pacers (4-2) to get to the finals and were led by Richard Hamilton (17.6 ppg), Chauncey Billups (16.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Ben Wallace (12.4 rpg) and Tayshaun Prince (10.3 ppg).
The Lakers got past the Houston Rockets (4-1), the San Antonio Spurs (4-2), Minnesota Timberwolves (4-2) and were led by Kobe Bryant (24.0 ppg, 5.1 apg, 5.5 rpg), Shaquille O’Neal (21.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg), Gary Payton (14.6 ppg, 5.5 apg) and Karl Malone (13.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg). Malone and Payton had joined the Lakers in the offseason after long careers with other teams.
The younger Pistons came out strong against the Lakers who had won three of the last four NBA finals in the Staples Center in Los Angeles in game one and had a better field goal percentage, .462 to .397. Detroit won the game 87-75 as Los Angeles could score over 20 points in only one quarter of the game.
Chauncey Billups paced the Pisotns with 22 points while Kobe Bryant had 25 points, Shaquille O’Neal 34 points and 11 rebounds, and Karl Malone pulled down 11 rebounds.
In game two the Lakers rallied for a 99-91 overtime win to even the series led by Kobe Bryant’s 33 points and Shaq’s 29 points. They scored all of the teams’ 10 overtime points as Shaq had 6 points and Kobe Bryant had 4 points.
Chauncey Billups had 27 points and Richard Hamilton had 26 points to lead the Pistons as the teams are tied at one game each.
The teams switch to the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich. for game three and the Lakers with four future Hall of Famers in their starting five could manage only 68 points in the game and not score 20 points in any quarter to lose 88-68.The Pistons’ Richard Hamilton scored 31 points to lead Detroit to a 2-1 advantage in the series.
Game four was similar to the previous four games as Shaquille O’ Neal had 36 points and 20 rebounds and Kobe Bryant contributed 20 points but the rest of the Laker team had only 24 points as they lose 88-80.
Rasheed Wallace had 26 points and 13 rebounds, Ben Wallace 13 rebounds, and Chauncey Billups had 23 points for Detroit as they went up three games to one in the series.
In game five Ben Wallace had his best game of the series with 18 points and 22 rebounds while Richard Hamilton had 21 points to lead the Pistons to a 100-87 win in the game and the series for Detroit’s first title since 1990 when GM Joe Dumars had been a star on that team.
Kobe Bryant had 24 points for LA and Shaquille O’Neal had 20 points in coach Phil Jackson’s first NBA finals’ defeat. Chauncey Billups got the finals’ MVP and the Pistons returned the following year while LA was back in 2009.
Game four of the finals marked the end of the career of Karl Malone as he retired after 19 seasons in the NBA and scored 36,928 points, third all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LaBron James.
Statistics for this article were from basketball-reference.com
Ron Griffitts a contributing columnist for The Daily Advocate.