AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Without a superstar among them and without being given much of a chance, the Detroit Pistons humiliated the Los Angeles Lakers 100-87 Tuesday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals for their first title in 14 years.
With finals MVP Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace leading the way, Detroit was at its very best in the clincher, defeating Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the Lakers in every facet of the game. It was methodical - and shocking - the way the Pistons shut down the Lakers with their patented defense and pulled ahead and away for one of the biggest surprises in NBA finals history.
"I never stopped dreamin', man," Billups said.
Wallace took a big step toward becoming a superstar with an 18-point, 22-rebound effort that helped Detroit become the first Eastern Conference team to win the title since the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in 1998.
Equally important was 14 points from Billups, the best guard on the floor throughout the series, 21 from Richard Hamilton and 17 from Tayshaun Prince.
"We just took it to 'em," Prince said. "We knew we could play with anybody in this league and I think we showed it."
Bryant scored 24 points to lead the Lakers, and O'Neal added 20 points and eight rebounds for a team that was built to win a championship with the addition of Karl Malone and Gary Payton this season. Derek Fisher and Slava Medvedenko were the only other Lakers in double figures, each scoring 10 points.
Game 5 was so lopsided that Lakers owner Jerry Buss, carrying his jacket and accompanied by an entourage, headed for the exit before the third quarter was over. By the time the last timeout rolled around, fans were already being urged to keep their celebrations under control.
As the final buzzer sounded and confetti began dropping, Pistons coach Larry Brown stoically walked to midcourt and received an affectionate handshake and warm smile from Lakers coach Phil Jackson and a hug from Bryant.
After the game, Jackson said the chances of him returning to coach the Lakers are "pretty slim." Many of the other Lakers, including Bryant, could be gone to another team. Bryant also faces the possibility of prison time if he loses his sexual assault case in Colorado.
"Maybe losing this one is enough for me to say it's time to give it up," said Jackson, who has won a total of nine titles as a coach with Los Angeles and Chicago, "but I'm not yet ready to make that statement."
Many fans at The Palace stood through the final several minutes, savoring every moment they had waited for since the Bad Boys of 1989 and '90 won back-to-back titles.
The game steadily got away from the Lakers from the second quarter on, unraveling completely over the latter part of the third quarter when it became clear they weren't going to make a game of it.
On one especially telling sequence, Bryant missed a 3-pointer, got his own rebound but missed on a drive, and Wallace soared high above everyone to snare his 14th rebound. Bryant was then called for a blocking foul as Billups brought the ball upcourt, and an "M-V-P" chant greeted the point guard as he went to the line and made it 80-59.
For good measure, Bryant missed a layup just moments later, and the quarter ended with Detroit ahead by 23 and the Lakers shuffling off the court a thoroughly defeated team.
Lindsey Hunter began the fourth quarter by stealing the ball from Bryant, who could manage only a grimace and didn't even give chase as Hunter took it in for a breakaway. It was a Pistons party the rest of the way, the culmination of one of the greatest and unexpected success stories in NBA annals.
Even before the series, the Pistons promised they were prepared to shock the world. What they lacked in star power they made up for in cohesiveness and determination - two factors that Detroit displayed in abundance throughout the finals while executing their coach's mantra to "play the right way."
For Billups, a castoff in five NBA cities before he landed in Detroit, that meant taking advantage of his mismatch against Gary Payton and making the key baskets that demoralized the Lakers through all five games.
For Rasheed Wallace, it meant keeping relatively quiet when the officials whistled him for fouls and his coach sat him on the bench for extended periods because of foul trouble.
For Prince, it meant keeping one of his long arms in Bryant's face whenever possible and justifying the faith team architect Joe Dumars showed in him a year ago when he passed on Carmelo Anthony with the second pick in the draft.
For Ben Wallace, it was about pounding the boards relentlessly and showing a level of effort O'Neal could only envy. For Richard Hamilton, it was proving how big of a mistake Jordan made two years ago when he dealt him from Washington in exchange for Jerry Stackhouse.
And collectively for the Pistons, it was about not being afraid as previous Eastern Conference opponents had been when confronted with the task of taking on the big, bad Lakers.
Detroit never flinched in this series - even when things seemed to turn the Lakers' way on Bryant's clutch 3-pointer that forced overtime in Game 2 and led to Los Angeles' only victory. The Pistons merely headed home to their adoring, fervent fans and exerted their will and style.
The title is the first for Brown after 21 years coaching in the NBA, a feat he was unable to accomplish with Allen Iverson, Reggie Miller, David Robinson or David Thompson.
Brown also won an NCAA championship with Kansas in 1988, making him the only coach with titles in college and the NBA.
Brown said during the series that there was no one - players, coaches, owners or fans - who wanted the championship more than he did, and what made it so special - or "neat," to use one of his preferred terms - was the Pistons' ability to do it the right way.
Malone was replaced in the starting lineup by Medvedenko, who looked for his shot right away and made his first three attempts to help the Lakers to an early 14-7 lead behind 7-for-11 shooting. But a problem came early, too, for Los Angeles as O'Neal picked up his second foul just four minutes into the game.
After O'Neal went to the bench, the Pistons scored the next eight points to force Jackson to reinsert O'Neal with 4:16 left in the first quarter. Detroit ended the period ahead 25-24, then steadily built its lead in the second quarter by running the fast break more than usual and capitalizing on mismatches in their offensive sets.
O'Neal picked up his third foul with 3:36 left before halftime, and Detroit held a 55-45 lead at intermission on 61 percent shooting, including 5-for-5 by Ben Wallace. Bryant had 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting, while O'Neal scored just seven.
The Pistons grabbed five offensive rebounds in the first six minutes of the third quarter to maintain a double-digit lead. Bryant had a couple of spectacular drives for dunks, but they were negated by the Pistons patiently working the ball on offense to whichever player had the matchup advantage.
A high-leaping, follow-up dunk by Ben Wallace was followed by a steal, layup and three-point play by Billups for a 72-55 lead, and the Pistons were on their way to finishing the Lakers off and denying Jackson his 10th title as a coach, leaving him tied with Red Auerbach for the most in league history.