by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — No problem, dude.

The lights? The cameras? The fast-paced LA action? Was all that supposed to bother the Pistons Tuesday night? Was it supposed to embarrass them, intimidate them, make them play like pretenders in Game 1 of this National Basketball Association final?

“Chill, baby,” the Pistons seemed to say as they jogged off the Forum court, having stunned the Lakers, 105-93, to draw first blood in this championship series. “What do you think? We never played basketball before?”

Take one, Detroit. The Pistons surprised the defending NBA champs, the sold-out Forum, a national TV audience — heck, admit it, they even surprised some of us — with an opening- night performance that took the shimmy right out of the LA hoopla.

How impressive? This impressive: They defensed the Lakers, which is like defensing a heat-seeking missile. They outraced the Lakers, which is like outracing The Orient Express. And they out-showtimed the Lakers — in their own building — which is like stealing the stage from, well, from Jack Nicholson.

That’s a wrap, Jack.

“Where were the nerves?” someone asked Isiah Thomas in the jam-packed Pistons’ locker room. “Where were the opening-night jitters?”

“I don’t know, we never got them,” said Thomas, smiling and shaking his head. “I was feeling so relaxed when the game started, I almost got nervous about feeling too relaxed.”

Not to worry. The Pistons opened an 8-0 lead and never really looked back. Hot? They were more than hot. They were sizzling with good shooting — and good fortune. They shot a smoking 61 percent in the first half (which ended with two Detroit three- pointers in three seconds). They saw Vinnie Johnson miss a desperation three-point attempt . . . only to rebound the miss and hit a jumper. They saw Johnson miss two free throws . . . only to have Thomas grab the rebound and sink a soft lay- up.

They saw John Salley block shots and Dennis Rodman block shots. And they saw Adrian Dantley, the hero of this game (34 points on 14-16 shooting) seem to turn to A.C. Green and say: “My man, there is just no way you can cover me.”

What a performance! Dantley spun, he twisted, he banked — he even rebounded. (“It felt good,” he said, in his normal understated fashion.) He has been an All-Star, a scoring legend, everything but a member of a championship team. He is 32; he feels his time has come.

“Did Dantley have that look in his eye tonight?” someone asked his best buddy, Joe Dumars.

“It was more like in his mouth,” Dumars answered. “He said GIVE . . . ME .
. . THE . . . BALL!’ You get the message pretty quick that way.”

Take one, Detroit.
‘Certainly helped’ Wow. Who would have predicted this? Cool? Calm? In the final three seconds of the first half, Bill Laimbeer canned a three-pointer. Then Kareem Abdul-Jabbar threw a lazy half-court pass, Thomas poked it away from Byron Scott, spun to the three-point line and fired a rainbow. It came down as the buzzer sounded and swished through with defiance.

Isiah Stole The Ball.

How’s that for a headline?

“A little skill, a lot of luck,” Thomas said of that shot. “But it certainly helped.”

It was just part of the winning tapestry. Here were the Pistons — no longer in creaky Boston Garden, but in the screaming yellow glitz of the Forum
— and they did everything right. They made good passes, showed patience, used the bench, never let the Lakers establish their running game, and took advantage of horrendous Lakers’ shooting (39.8 percent) on their home court, where the majority of their shots are usually lay- ups.

What is it with teams that play the Pistons in these playoffs? Their shooting goes right in the dumper. Is it great Detroit defense or something more? Who knows? You half expect the Lakers to wear garlic cloves around their necks for Thursday’s Game 2.

“A lot of people are probably sitting in their living rooms watching this and saying ‘Geez, the Detroit Pistons are in the finals?”‘ said coach Chuck Daly afterwards. “But I told our guys before the game, we didn’t get here with mirrors. Now go and prove it.”

Take one, Detroit. Can Pistons repeat? OK. Let’s be realistic for a minute. You can’t expect the Pistons to do this every night to these Lakers. Teams adjust, and no doubt LA will revert more to form in Game 2.

But that does not diminish what the Pistons did Tuesday night. Everyone knows they can play basketball, but they continue to surprise with poise. They

held off a strong LA rally in the closing minutes — played smart, used the clock, made their free throws.

When did these guys get so savvy? They stuffed the Boston Garden jinx not once but twice in the last series, and now they have taken the floodlights of the Forum and sprayed them right back in the Lakers’ faces.

“Any special thoughts on a game that has taken you 12 years to reach?” Dantley was asked.

“Yeah,” he said, smiling, “it took long enough.”

Maybe that’s it. Maybe they’re playing with the hunger of a team that has waited forever to get here. Maybe, on Tuesday, that pushed them past LA — a team that has been to the finals enough times to take one game for granted.

Or maybe Detroit is just that good. Who knows? People said it would take a miracle for the Pistons to beat the Lakers for the NBA crown. They need only 75 percent of a miracle now.

“You know, I met an actor last night, the guy who plays the husband on
‘Cagney and Lacey,’ ” Daly said, as the reporters began to file out of the Pistons’ locker room. “He said he thought Dallas (which lost to LA in the Western Conference final) came in looking around at all the stars and the glitz, and that’s why they never won here. I took that to heart. I stressed that to our guys over and over today.”

What a closer. Advice on LA — from an actor. Too funny. Too cool. Too much. That’s a wrap, Jack.

Take one, Detroit. CUTLINE

Pistons center Bill Laimbeer and Lakers center Kareem Abdul- Jabbar battle for a rebound during Tuesday’s NBA championship series opener in Inglewood, Calif. The Pistons won Game 1, 105-93.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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