A look back at the 2004 NBA Finals Game 2 between the Pistons and Lakers

With the NBA season on hold, we go back in time, game by game, to examine the Detroit Pistons’ surprise 2004 Finals victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

There are times in the NBA when you can just feel that moments mean everything.

With regulation coming to a close in Game 2 of the 2004 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant created one of those moments.

The Detroit Pistons neglected to foul Shaquille O’Neal and Luke Walton in a mistake that proved fatal. Richard Hamilton got in Kobe’s face, but the Los Angeles Lakers‘ superstar made a legendary shot to force overtime.

Free basketball was dominated by the home team. The visitors were shell shocked after taking control of the game in the fourth quarter. Shaq dominated like it was Game 1. And the entire series seemingly flipped on its head.

From the opening tip, it was obvious how important the second game was to the Lakers.

Los Angeles displayed defensive intensity just wasn’t there in the previous contest. Phil Jackson made good adjustments from the outset. After Chauncey Billups created so easily in the pick-and-roll in Game 1, Jackson responded by putting bigger defenders on the Detroit point guard to impede his progress.

Devean George‘s size allowed him to fight through an early screen and steal the ball from a surprised Billups:

When Gary Payton drew the assignment, he pressured the ball to disrupt his opponent’s offense. It backfired occasionally, but the Lakers made life much more difficult along the perimeter than they did in Game 1.

The second half saw flashbacks of Chauncey’s prior performance when Jackson gave Payton back the primary ball-handler responsibility. The result was two open threes when The Glove went under screens, including a critical point when the game was starting to get away from Detroit late in the third quarter:

Though Billups’ second-half resurgence was key in the Pistons’ comeback, Luke Walton’s first half built the Lakers lead. The Lakers rookie made plays in nearly every way imaginable.

He worked to get Karl Malone on track after The Mailman had a rough first game by feeding him the ball immediately when he got good, deep position:

Later, his movement following a screen got him open from deep:

And he even created off the dribble leading to a relatively rare (in this game, at least) easy dunk  for Shaq:

The dominant Los Angeles big man was less destructive than his normal self. Detroit limited O’Neal to 7-for-17 shooting in regulation after providing little resistance the game before.

For Shaq’s counterpart, Ben Wallace, it was a vintage Defensive Player of the Year type performance.

Big Ben did it all.

Quick hands and great anticipation earned him a steal in the third quarter:

A good double from Rasheed Wallace allowed Ben to rotate perfectly and force a Malone turnover early in the game:

And Ben’s signature timing was on full display after he helped Rasheed by blocking O’Neal’s rim attempt:

But the real story was Kobe.

After a poor showing in Game 1, Bryant poured in 33 and looked unstoppable at times. When Los Angeles needed it the most in the fourth quarter, he finished strong with 10 of the Lakers 21 points.

It was a critical time for the home team. No team had ever won the Finals after losing its first two home games. The air in the arena was thick with intensity. Even the Zen Master felt it, as color commentator Doc Rivers outlined in crunch time:

The Back to Work Pistons were grinding. They were dirtying up the game at every opportunity. But for one night in the 2004 NBA Finals, it was not enough.

On this night, Kobe Bryant was just too much.

Stray Observations:

  • Shaq lost his second straight tip due to touching it on the way up
  • Richard Hamilton’s continued struggles led to him finding different ways to score, including making two corner threes. He made only thirty during the regular season.
  • This long two from Kobe is evidence of a different time. Today, this nearly always results in an attempt from deep.
  • Kobe’s late dunk is a reminder of just how athletic he was in his younger years.
  • After another foul trouble plagued first half, Rasheed Wallace found success attacking a hobbled Karl Malone, including this crafty post move.
  • Michelle Tafoya noted Malone’s injury may be significant earlier in the game.
  • “Ball Don’t Lie” was heard throughout the Staples Center on at least three occasions, most notably a third quarter variation that was especially loud.