16 Years Ago Today, David Took Down Goliath
When it comes to winning a title in the NBA, most people subscribe to the theory that more often than not, the best talent wins. Unlike football where there can be a magical run of a wild card team all the way to the Super Bowl or like hockey how any seed can suddenly have a hot goalie and make a run to the Stanley Cup, in basketball it doesn't really work that way. Throughout NBA history, the champion is usually the team loaded with the best talent. Last week we talked about one of the anomalies to that theory with the 2011 Mavericks upsetting the loaded Heat, well today was the day perhaps one of the biggest NBA Finals upsets became official.
You know the saying. You need a superstar to win the NBA title. We all say it. Well that 2004 Pistons team had one All Star (Ben Wallace). They were the true definition of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Think back to what an underdog this Pistons team was. The Lakers entered the series as -550 favorites. They had just won 3 titles not too long before this series, and were loaded with star power. The Pistons weren't even supposed to be able to hang with this type of opponent, but the work they did on the defensive end was legendary. To win this series in 5 games is utterly ridiculous, but that's what elite level defense can do
Game 1: Lakers at home scored 75 points, lost
Game 2: Lakers at home scored 99 points, won
Game 3: Lakers on the road scored 68 points, lost
Game 4: Lakers on the road scored 80 points, lost
Game 5: Lakers on the road scored 87 points, lost.
To put this into perspective, during the season the Lakers were 3rd in the NBA in scoring at 98 points a night and had the 6th highest Ortg. They got to that number one time during this series. Shaq was still a monster with 26/10 on 63% shooting, but this Pistons team held Kobe to just 38/17% shooting. Derrick Fisher shot 30/37%, Karl Malone just 33%. As a team the Lakers 41/24%. Total and complete domination from the start of the series to the end of the gentlemen's sweep.
Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton were the best guards on the floor, combining to average over 40 points in the series. Big Shot Billups shot 50/47% for the series! Other than Shaq, Ben Wallace was the best big. Sprinkle in a little Sheed and Tayshaun Prince and that's how you pull off one of the greatest upsets ever.
That era of Pistons basketball was no joke though. Starting the season before in 2002-03 the Pistons made 6 ECF and 2 NBA Finals. They were the class of the East until the Celts Big 3 became a thing and they took over for a few years. But everyone who was a fan of an Eastern Conference team knew how tough it was to get past the Pistons. They slowed you down and beat you with Rip Hamilton midrange and unreal defense.
Crazy this was already 16 years ago, I have to admit that makes me feel old as shit. I was in high school when this went down and just watched by Celts win 36 games and fire their coach. It felt like the Pistons were playing a completely different sport. As we know, Shaq dipped after this Finals loss and the Lakers only won 34 games and missed the playoffs despite Kobe averaging 27 a game in 66 appearances. Then Phil Jackson came back and there were a few more years of coming up short before their two additional titles.
Despite that though, there is no denying that the big bad Lakers choked big time in 2004 and got their ass handed to them by a team nobody gave a damn shot to.