Retro Rewind: Pistons dominate Lakers in 2004 Finals Game 5

Detroit Pistons Ben Wallace. (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons Ben Wallace. (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Detroit Pistons
Detroit Pistons Ben Wallace. (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to one of the greatest games in the history of the Detroit Pistons: Game 5 of the 2004 NBA Finals versus the Los Angeles Lakers.

“The Detroit Pistons are the basketball champions of the world” echoed through the arena. On June 15, 2004, the Pistons put their finishing touches on the series over the highly favored Los Angeles Lakers. In dominating fashion, the Larry O’Brian Trophy again belonged to Detroit.

The same cheers that were heard in the arena could have also been heard in my living room. At just 9 years old, I had just witnessed the peak of my basketball childhood. As any kid does, I had come to love the stars of the game such as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Tuning in, my intrigue began with the stars, but the Pistons quickly won me over. The defensive effort completely shutting down an offensive juggernaut. I had a love for the Pistons, but this was the point where that boiled over. The team from my home state were going to be the champions? What? I couldn’t believe it.

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With the current NBA season postponed for the immediate future, I decided to revisit the basketball nirvana that was Game 5’s clinching win over the Lakers. As my rewatch began, I was quickly transported back to my childhood. The only thing that was missing was my blue Ben Wallace jersey.

Weirdly enough, the full game can be found here on Facebook. I’m sure it can be found other places online, but this is the one that I went with. Before tuning into the grainy footage, it’s best if we set the stage.

The Detroit Pistons entered the season as contenders that no one were taking seriously. At the end of the 2002-2003 season, the Pistons parted ways with head coach Rick Carlisle and handed the team over to Larry Brown.

Coming off a 50-win season and a trip to the conference finals, the expectations were there, just not through the roof.

At the trade deadline, Detroit traded for Rasheed Wallace in a move that let the league know they were serious about making a run.

This move rounded out what would eventually become one of the most balanced starting line-up’s in league history: Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed, Ben Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince.

On the other side, the Los Angeles Lakers were looking for their fourth championship in the last five seasons. At the time, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were arguably 2 of the top 3 to 4 players in the league.

They were surrounded by other NBA legends past their prime: Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Derek Fisher, and Rick Fox. On paper, the Lakers were larger than life.

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In the first couple of rounds, the Lakers had looked beatable. If it weren’t for late game heroics by Fisher, the San Antonio Spurs would have had them on the ropes. In the Western Conference Finals, Kevin Garnett and Minnesota Timberwolves stretched the series to 6, but the Lakers were just too tough.

We won’t get into all that was happening behind the scenes, but it needs to mentioned as many think it played into the outcome of the series.

There was drama off the court between Shaq, Kobe, and legendary coach Phil Jackson.

Once the NBA Finals started, it became evident that the Pistons could compete and that the Lakers were worn down. What was once deemed by experts as a “David vs. Goliath” series eventually turned into a slug fest dominated by Detroit.

In Game 1 the Pistons took control, winning 87-75. The Lakers escaped with Game 2 (99-91), after a buzzer-beating three-pointer to force overtime by Kobe.

In Games 3 and 4, the Pistons continued to play their style, winning both games. It’s worth mentioning that in Game 4, Shaq poured in 36 points and 20 rebounds in a losing effort.

This all set up for the potential series clinching Game 5 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. We all know the end result, but it’s the entire game that tells the story.