View Full Version : I think this article pretty much sums up the Finals.

06-14-2004, 10:58 AM

Lakers talk good game,
but Pistons play one

Shaq, Kobe & co. are can't admit
that Detroit has outclassed them

Center Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the Lakers don't seem to get it -- they're losing because the Pistons are beating them, NBCSports.com contributor Bob Duff says.

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The marketing folks at the Palace of Auburn Hills stooped to a new low this week.

Urinal mats with a message.

Just add, um, liquid and the secret phrase is revealed.

“Beat L.A.”

Which, come to think of it, is a pretty apt metaphor to describe what the Detroit Pistons are doing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals.

The Pistons are beating the Lakers in all aspects of the game, making believers out of everyone, it seems, except the Lakers, who remain a team flush with disbelief.

Sunday’s 88-80 victory provided Detroit with a 3-1 hammerlock on the best-of-seven series. The Pistons can wrap it their first title since 1990 on home court Tuesday and there’s no viable reason to believe they won’t.

No team has ever rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to capture an NBA title, and the Lakers hardly look like they are about to become trend setters.

Their performance has been as painful as watching Shaquille O’Neal shoot free throws.

"We’re playing from behind and we’re not doing a very good job of it," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said.

The Lakers came into the Finals carrying the swagger of a team with three titles under their belts, and they still appear to believe that was all they needed to bring with them to take home a fourth ring.

"We know we can play with this team," O’Neal said. "We know we haven’t played our best yet."

O’Neal and his teammates continue to wear looks of disbelief, as if they’ll wake up from this nightmare any moment now and start the series for real.

Forget it, fellas. The dynasty is in the dumpster.

As dysfunctional families go, the Lakers could star in their own reality show.

Wait a minute, they already do.

These guys don’t need coach Phil, they need Dr. Phil.

You’ve got players publicly suggesting lineup changes through the media and privately cornering Jackson to express their agendas on the direction the team should take to rectify the problem.

Former Lakers superstar Magic Johnson blasted his old club for their lack of effort, pointing the finger of blame specifically at forward Karl Malone and guard Gary Payton.

Both took pay cuts to come to L.A. in search of a championship ring, but all they’ve done in this series is show the basketball world why they’ve never won one.

Malone, albeit hampered by a knee injury, finished Game 4 with as many points (two) as fouls (two). Payton scored eight points, his best performance of the series, but that still only gives him a dismal total of 19 points through four games.

"For the fourth straight game, Kobe (Bryant) and I were the only guys in double figures," O’Neal said. "We need to get more from the other guys, and I think some of them are passing up shots."

Bryant also questioned his own shot selection after going 8-for-25 from the floor in Game 4, dropping his field-goal percentage for the series to 39 percent.

"Prince is a long guy," Bryant said of Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince, who is deploying his 72-inch wingspan to deflect Bryant’s offense from the game. "He’s doing a good job of staying in front of me."

The Pistons are also doing their utmost to wear down O’Neal, who’s averaging 44.5 minutes per game. "As many minutes as he has to play, we’re trying to run him on every possession," Detroit coach Larry Brown said.

Nothing it seems, can wear down the Lakers’ sense that they are still the better team in the series.

Only a Hail Mary three-pointer by Bryant at the buzzer in Game 2 kept Los Angeles from being swept, yet the Lakers keep talking about what they’re doing wrong, about how they haven’t brought their A game yet, all the while refusing to acknowledge the significant role the play of the Pistons has taken in that situation.

They’ve even gone to the old standby of losing teams, blaming the officials. "They are getting all the calls," Payton said. "It’s frustrating, but we have to play through it."

L.A’s dilemma has nothing to do with whistle blowers and everything to do with wishful thinking. Detroit is simply dominating Los Angeles. The Pistons have been the aggressors since the opening tip of Game 1, leaving the Lakers in the perennial position of reactors. It’s why the Lakers are drawing more than double the fouls per game, because when you’re the team always trying to stem the tide, you usually drown in your own mistakes.

"I think the thing that is the most difficult to swallow is our inability to get some loose balls," said Jackson, one of the few within the Lakers camp willing to credit the Pistons for playing a role in L.A.’s demise.

Forward Rick Fox was another who seemed to be coming to the realization that this Detroit club is pretty good.

"We keep talking about it being us not executing, but let’s face it, there’s a reason for that," Fox said.

That reason would be any number of Pistons, from the excellent backcourt play of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton to the smothering defensive job Prince is doing on Bryant, to the dominance on the boards of Ben and Rasheed Wallace.

"When we play defense, rebound and share the ball, we’re pretty tough to beat," said Brown, who finds himself one win away from his first NBA title.

One win is also what the Lakers find themselves absorbed with acquiring.

"Our message to this team has been we came here to win one game and bring this series back to L.A.," Jackson said.

At this point, that seems like too tall an order for the Lakers, because even as they face the final curtain, the majority of them still refuse to face the facts.

"It’s a big challenge for us," O’Neal said. "But the pressure is on them. They have to close this out."

Ultimately, that’s their real problem.

The Lakers aren’t in the final, they’re in denial.

They continue to talk a good game, but it’s the Pistons who are doing the job when it matters most.

They’re the team playing the big game.