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How the Detroit Pistons defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004

The NBA is a place where magic and unexpected things happen all the time. Sometimes an underdog manages to gain the upper hand and defeat a favorite. But the thing, that happened in the 2004 finals. In this article, we will have a closer look at the series, especially the first game.

June 6, 2004: First game of the NBA Finals - the Detroit Pistons against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.

Preparing for the performance

The Lakers (56-26) won four consecutive games against reigning champion San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals and in Game 5 with Derek Fisher's iconic final shot. On their way to the fourth final in five years, they beat one of the best teams of the season, Minnesota, in six games.

The Pistons (54-28) defeated reigning two-game Eastern champion New Jersey in the conference semifinals. The next was a win in six games over Indiana, the team with the most games won in a season.

The anticipation of the match was a super-team against a team of second-rate players. But the latter claimed respect after a convincing 87-75 victory.

Chauncey Billups was the best in the attack, making accurate shots, bypassing Gary Payton and Derek Fisher, helping the Pistons defeat the reigning Shaquille O'Neal.

The game plan from the Pistons was to keep the Lakers' backup players and play against two-star players.

The idea worked: O'Neill and Bryant scored 59 of 75 points, while the Lakers' other aging hall of fame members, Payton and Carl Malone, had a very poor FG.

Why is this series remembered?

The outcome of this series still remains one of the most unexpected ones in the history of the NBA. The Lakers, with Kobe Bryant, Shaq, and Karl Malone in the team were favorites. Especially the latter joined the Lakers because he wanted to win the title. But everything turned out to be very different. The first match and the series in general completely changed the odds structure. People were paying attention to the club’s recent success and history, but it was not enough. Right now people who visit safe betting sites to discover odds for a particular game, always have in mind this game, because it was something no one would have anticipated.

Containing Shaquille O’Neal

Restraining O’Neal was pivotal for the Pistons to defeat the Lakers. O'Neill averaged 34.2 points with 60% of the game in the previous 19 final games. And this time, Shaq dominated, surpassing Ben Wallace, scoring the team's first eight points and finishing with 34, hitting 13 of 16. Meanwhile, Tayshaun Prince held off Bryant, closing free zones and forcing his opponent to throw a long two-pointer.

To get to the finals, the Lakers had to play a crazy season. They were not used to dirty Eastern Conference basketball, they never got into its rhythm. In the paint, the Pistons always had a bunch of players, like in the front row of the stage. Under Prince's defense, Bryant had a lot of problems.

Other factors

The unappreciated hero of the first match was Elden Campbell. Campbell and Lindsay Hunter had little experience in six finals games, while Los Angeles had plenty.

When Shaq outplayed Ben Wallace and Rashid Wallace, the 35-year-old Campbell came on the court midway through the first quarter. He played two and a half seasons with the Lakers in the late 1990s and his experience has shown that playing against O’Neal required certain skills.

In attack, Campbell gave accurate passes and made several accurate shots. In 18 minutes, he had six points, four assists, a rebound, two blocks, and just one foul.

The Pistons' bench beat opponents 19-4. Corliss Williamson kept Detroit's offense afloat because Richard Hamilton, the team's top scorer in the regular season and three previous playoff series, was chasing a friend and former high school rival Bryant.

Hamilton made five of his six losses in the first half; Detroit's 10 errors led to 15 points for the Lakers, allowing them to lead (41-40) before halftime despite a weak play in attack.

Rashid Wallace played eight minutes in the first half. He started the second in the same way - he threw a 3-pointer from the flank, and the Pistons led the way for the rest of the game.

Every time the Lakers narrowed the points gap, the Pistons responded with an accurate shot.

And yes, the basketball gods were supportive of Detroit in the second half of the game. There are two confirmations:

1. Midway through the third quarter, Prince picked up Ben Wallace's unsuccessful throw under the ring, went into a corner on dribbling, turned around, and launched an unprepared shot from 6 meters, which was accurate.

2. In the fourth quarter, Billups gave a pass to Prince, earlier Bryant almost intercepted it, dropping the ball to Chauncey on the other half of the court. A second later, Tayshaun scored a three-pointer from a corner, stopping the Lakers on a 77-68 score with 4:21 minutes left.

That defeat halted Lakers coach Phil Jackson's record in the playoffs, 9-0 in the final series and 35-0 in home-field relegation games.


The first game was indeed a pivotal moment for the successive games. The Pistons felt that they were able to pull off a win against a formidable opponent. And they managed to get a deserved, though shocking championship in just 5 games.