By Brian James
Special to ESPN Insider


Brian James, a former assistant coach with the Pistons, Raptors and Wizards, spent the 2003-'04 season scouting for the SuperSonics. Insider tapped his NBA expertise for the NBA playoffs.

Inside the NBA Playoffs
vs.
NBA FINALS
# Complete scouting report
# Pistons' plus-minus stats
# Lakers' plus-minus stats

Complete Insider coverage

The fact that the Los Angeles Lakers lost at home for the first time in 10 games in this year's playoffs is not alarming. What is alarming, though, is how L.A. played and how the Lakers lost an 87-75 decision to the Detroit Pistons in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Sunday. I tried to explain in my scouting report before the series just how good Detroit is, and now L.A. knows.

The Pistons dominated the game in almost every way, and just wanted the game more. The old saying goes that the playoffs start when you lose home-court advantage, and now, obviously, Detroit is up a break.

Shaquille O'Neal was the individual star of the game -- he went 13-for-16 from the field and 8-for-12 from the free-throw line in an incredible individual performance. But the Lakers have to realize they just wasted a herculean effort by the big man.

The difference was that Pistons coach Larry Brown elected not to double O'Neal in the post and instead had five different players guard him with single coverage -- Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Elden Campbell, Mehmet Okur and even Corliss Williamson.


Kobe Bryant
Shooting Guard
Los Angeles Lakers
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
65 24.0 5.5 5.1 .438 .852

Only Rasheed had to sit extended minutes due to fouls. Shaq was throwing in hooks and an assortment of bank shots from either block and over both shoulders, in addition to his normal layups and dunks. The Pistons' gameplan was to use their entire roster to make O'Neal and Kobe Bryant work as hard as possible to get their points, but not to double-team anyone.

Detroit made Bryant take 27 shots to get his 25 points. Tayshaun Prince bothered him with his length, Darvin Ham with his strength, and Richard Hamilton tried to deny him the ball with his quickness. Different looks -- difficult looks -- with different players. Brown told his team that the other 10 Lakers aren't good enough to beat the Pistons, so they concentrated on shutting down the rest of the L.A. lineup, offering no wide-open looks.

Karl Malone and Gary Payton never got started. Derek Fisher didn't have an easy shot the entire night. And Detroit made Kareem Rush and Devean George put the ball on the floor in uneasy situations. The result? No one besides O'Neal and Bryant had more than five points, and the entire bench only contributed four points.

Detroit pushed L.A.'s triangle offense further out on the floor with in-your-face, one-on-one ball pressure with an occasional run-and-jump trap near the half-court line. This made things very uncomfortable for L.A. and got the Lakers totally out of synch. Then Detroit's confidence skyrocketed.

L.A. has to figure out why that happened and how to create more of an attack-mode. Lakers coach Phil Jackson has to figure out the best way to get Payton going early, as he did in the Minnesota series, and how to get the ball to Malone in areas in which he can be succesful. Look for the high-low action the Lakers had so much success with against the Timberwolves.

O'Neal can duck into the lane on punch-ins, and if the Pistons sag off Malone, then the jump shot or drive will be there. Detroit got burned early for lobs a few times by helping off O'Neal, so Ben Wallace wants to stay as attached to him as possible.


Chauncey Billups
Point Guard
Detroit Pistons
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
78 16.9 3.5 5.7 .394 .878

Defensively, the Lakers have to stop the penetration of Detroit's guards. Bryant did a very good job of bottling up Hamilton, for the most part. Bryant has had success against Hamilton all his life in basketball, and mentally he has an edge right now. That's why he volunteered to guard him. But Chauncey Billups dominated at point guard for Detroit, which I predicted in the scouting report.

The Pistons must continue to get those easy shots that they haven't seen since the Milwaukee series. Their best two players had sub-par games, and they still won. They truly believe that if they get 85 points, they can win each game of this series.

Regardless, L.A. must now be in the attack-mode to even this series. L.A. started out 0-2 vs. the Spurs, but those were away from home. Another loss would mean an 0-2 deficit and a very improbable path to the top. Detroit, at the same time, needs to go for the jugular rather than being satisfied going back home tied 1-1.