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Throwback Thursday: Game five of the 2004 NBA Finals (film)

Reviewing the championship performance of the 2004 Detroit Pistons.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons will be featured all day on NBA TV today, with Finals-clinching victories, documentaries and late-night Grant Hill bad assery. Today at 3 p.m. EST, fans can watch Game 5 of the NBA Finals in an abridged two-hour edition. More information can be found on the NBATV website. Let’s break down the film, shall we?

What were you doing on June 15th, 2004?

If you’re a Detroit Pistons fan, the odds are mighty strong that game five of the 2004 NBA Finals was on the agenda for the (now) historic night. The Pistons, heavy underdogs heading into the series, clinched their third championship for the franchise with a convincing 100-87 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s about time we took a closer look, right?

True to character, every Pistons player contributed in one way or another. Below, we’ll take a Close Out approach at how the Pistons dismantled Shaquille O’neal, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the hapless Lakers. If Throwback Thursday is a hit, we’ll review a couple more old school Pistons’ games before the season kicks off. If not, well, I’ve killed time doing dumber things so all is not completely lost.


An absolute staple set of the 2004 Detroit Pistons:

Marathon running off-ball Richard Hamilton and post-up Rasheed Wallace are firmly etched into the ollective brains of Pistons’ fans and above is a quick example of the latter.

Trying to front Rasheed Wallace in this set meant Ben Wallace flashed for a high-low opportunity or for Big Ben to put the ball on the ground:

A driving Ben? More on that later.

When the post-up wasn’t immediately available, the natural offensive flow took over:

High and sideline pick-and-rolls, big man high-lows and pin downs were the norm.

It was a set used with all bigs:

  1. Gary Payton is clearly expecting the familiar action but the ball finds Hamilton’s hands anyway. As Rip collects, RWallace sets a ball-screen while Tayshaun Prince simultaneously clears to the opposite corner. Lakers lose track of Prince.
  2. Hamilton, now being forced to use the screen by Bryant, is waved off by Billups in favor of a BWallace ball-screen. Billups finds paint and kicks to Prince for another wide-open look.
  3. Same set up but as Hamilton gathers the ball, Mike James relocates. Rip beats Kareem Rush and attracts a help defender, Mehmet Okur finishes off the possession.

Some things in basketball, like this Hawk set, never change:

Billups, fouled in the second example, shot 8-for-8 from the line in game five.

As it should look familiar:

Present day Floppy:

Was perfected by Hamilton, Prince and coach Larry Brown:

Above, Brian Cook gets lost (again) and Prince nails the long-ball.

The Pistons shot 39 free throws and made 28.

Whether by design or simply within the flow, the floppy look often morphed into a high pick-and-roll:

Again, the Lakers lose sight of Prince.

Finally, Luke Kennard’s Iverson cut:

Was a preferred action by Brown to initiate offense:

Ben Wallace, my lord, with the put back.


Unstoppable Ben Wallace

Late last month, the DBB world was informed that, truth be told, I wasn’t a big fan of the “Going to Work” crew. It had nothing to do with any of the players or personalities, rather, as a party happy 23-year-old, my priorities focused on where we were watching the game and who was going to be in attendance instead of the actual game itself.

Young and so very dumb.

Easily the biggest eye-opener in rewatching game five was the dominant play of Ben Wallace. Oh my God, do you guys know this dude?

My hungover recollection of Wallace during those days proved to be inaccurate. While, yes, he’s not a shooter by any means, game five showcased his importance to the offense.

DBB, there is no lying when I say that I, literally, let out quite the loud gasp after watching that play for, basically, the first time.

Before rewatching, I thought Ben Wallace dribbled the ball, at most, five times total in his Pistons career. That’s how much I payed attention. Nope:


Wallace finished with 18 points and 22(!) rebounds.

My favorite part about the play below is the automatic Wallace re-screen after Gary Payton goes under the first ball-screen:

Sometimes, simplicity is the highest form of sophistication. Re-screening after the on-ball defender goes under is so simple, so smart and yet so effective. It’s an almost lost art in today’s game.

One of my favorite on-going hobbies is hating on the NBA during the 80s, 90s and pretty much everything before LeBron James (really) took off. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong and I was dead wrong about these Pistons, and specifically, Ben Wallace.

Lesson learned.

Pushing the pace by Chauncey Billups

Chauncey Billups, the 2004 Finals MVP, logged five shots and finished with only 14 points and six assists. The way he orchestrated the offense and carefully picked his spots, though, are not quantifiable.

The Playbook section highlighted the composed nature in which Billups conducted his business in the half-court but the opportunistic fast break buckets broke the Lakers:


Elden Campbell and the bench

We’ve already seen Corlis Williamson, Mehmet Okur, Mike James and Lindsey Hunter make an appearance but we’re missing one: Elden Campbell.

Campbell, 36 at the time, was on the last legs of his 15-year career but made his presence felt during the championship clinching game five. He was an extra body to lean on Shaquille O’neal and came through on the offensive end which included this put back:

And this pick-and-pop:

Easy, Shaq. That’s a flagrant foul in 2018 as you must give Easy Elden Campbell a place to land.

Finish them

Rasheed Wallace’s best “finish him” Mortal Kombat impression:

With the Pistons up comfortably, the final six minutes of the game were far from nail-biting. Thanks to two RWallce post-ups, the Lakers were put out of their misery.

What a fun game!

Hey Lakers:

Wow, who would’ve thought?