Tue, Jun 15, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Pistons make it 3-1 against LA Lakers

INSPIRED EFFORT The Detroit Pistons, who entered the final as huge underdogs, can clinch their first title since 1990 in Game Five as they now lead the series

REUTERS , AUBURN HILLS, MICHIGAN

Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince celebrates their win over the LA Lakers by crossing off the games the Pistons need to win the championship by spray-painting an ``X'' over the number 2. The Pistons took a three game to one lead in the best of seven series by beating the Lakers 88-80.

PHOTO: EPA

Rasheed Wallace had 26 points and 13 rebounds to lead an inspired team effort as the Detroit Pistons moved to the brink of an NBA championship on Sunday with a masterful 88-80 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Pistons, who entered the final as huge underdogs, now lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and can clinch their first title since 1990 with a victory in Game Five in front of a frenzied home crowd at the Palace.

"No matter how you look at it you have to win four games in a series," said Pistons Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, who can claim the first NBA championship in his 31-year coaching career with one more victory.

"All I'm telling them is, we've got to continue to try and play the right way and defend and rebound and share the ball.

"They [the Lakers] have a coach who has won nine championships. They have got two of the greatest players in the game, in their prime, so we can't take anything for granted."

With three titles in the last four years and an all-star cast led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles arrived in the finals with a cocky swagger.

But it was a dazed group of Lakers who slumped off the court on Sunday aware that no team in NBA finals history has battled back from a 3-1 deficit to claim the title.

"I think everybody is a little down right now," said Bryant, who had 20 points in a losing cause. "The important thing is we have to win the next game.

"It's a one game series.

"By any means necessary we have to win the next game and go from there."

The high value placed on Sunday's pivotal contest was clear from the opening tip-off, neither team able to construct anything greater than a five-point advantage in an entertaining and high-quality opening half.

Playing with an energy and edge that was lacking in a humbling 88-68 Game Three loss, the Lakers displayed an ability to lift their game when it mattered battling to a 22-21 first quarter lead.

But the Pistons, bristling with the confidence and bolster by another raucous crowd at the Palace, were steeled for a struggle taking a slim 41-39 advantage into the intermission.

The seesaw battle continued through three riveting quarters punctuated by 18 lead changes before the teams arrived at the final 12 minutes deadlocked at 56-56.

Seizing their chance, the Pistons would not let LA off the ropes like they did in an overtime loss in Game Two, two key three-pointers from Chauncey Billups snuffing out any Lakers comeback hopes.

Another gritty team effort by the Pistons cancelled out a brilliant individual performance by O'Neal, who finished the night 36 points and 20 rebounds.

"Very upset, we let one slip away," O'Neal said.

"We came out real aggressive and we had it, jut in the fourth quarter, we made some mistakes and fouls went in their favor.

"We know we can play with this team. I've been with these guys a long time and they are not just going to lay down."

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