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The 2004 NBA Finals was the championship round of the 2003–04 National Basketball Association season. The Finals were between the Los Angeles Lakers of the Western Conference and the Detroit Pistons of the Eastern Conference; the Lakers held home court advantage. The series was played under a best-of-seven format, so the first team to collect four game victories would win the series.

Although the Lakers were the heavy favorite, the Pistons won the series four games to one to win their first title since 1990. Detroit was so dominant in the series that it came to be known as a "five-game sweep." Piston point guard Chauncey Billups was named the Most Valuable Player of the series. In winning, the Pistons won their fifth championship (three NBA Championships, two NBL Championships). The series was noted for the perceived underdog, the Pistons, dominating a Laker team that had four future Hall of Famers.


Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers had won consecutive championships from 2000 to 2002, but lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference playoffs in 2003 to end their streak at three.

In the 2003 offseason, the Lakers made major changes, with initially varying results. Needing to find a point guard and a power forward to defend against Tim Duncan and the Spurs, the Lakers signed veteran stars Gary Payton and Karl Malone for well below market value; they also hoped to give both veterans their first championship ring. The Lakers were afterwards considered the favorites to win the NBA title.

During the regular season, after starting the season 18–3, the Lakers were afflicted by numerous injuries and stumbled to a 56–26 record to finish the season with the second seed in the Western Conference.

The Lakers breezed past their first-round opponent, the Houston Rockets, 4–1, but then lost the first two games in their series against the Spurs before a dramatic comeback that saw them win 4–2. Then, they faced the Minnesota Timberwolves and their superstar forward Kevin Garnett. The Lakers won the series 4–2 to advance to the Finals.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons won two back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990, but with retirements and departures of several stars, they faded from playoff prominence. The team hired former star Joe Dumars as general manager of the team in 2000, and he began stockpiling draft picks and trading players. He landed defensive stalwart Ben Wallace and guard Richard Hamilton by trading established stars in controversial trades, signed Chauncey Billups (considered an underachiever), and drafted Tayshaun Prince with the 23rd pick in the 2002 Draft. He was named the NBA Executive of the Year in 2003 for returning the Pistons to prominence.

The Pistons made a major change as well, but perhaps a riskier change, firing head coach Rick Carlisle, who had led the Pistons to two consecutive Central Division titles and had received the NBA Coach of the Year Award in 2002. In his place, Dumars hired legendary coach Larry Brown, who had most recently led the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001.

In a three-team trade at the trade deadline, Dumars traded Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter, Bobby Sura, Željko Rebrača and other considerations for guard Mike James and forward Rasheed Wallace, who proved to be the final pieces of the championship team (Hunter would rejoin the Pistons a week later). The Pistons, who were already a good defensive team, became a defensive force to be reckoned with. They became the first team in NBA history to hold five consecutive opponents under 70 points, and finished the season with a 54–28 record and the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Pistons easily overcame the Milwaukee Bucks 4–1, but struggled against the New Jersey Nets and narrowly escaped 4–3. In a defensive series with Indiana, the Pistons offense proved more productive and they won 4–2 to advance to the NBA Finals.

Lakers and Pistons rosters

Head Coach Phil Jackson
Point Guard Gary Payton
Shooting Guard Kobe Bryant
Small Forward Rick Fox
Power Forward Karl Malone
Center Shaquille O'Neal
Derek Fisher
Stanislav Medvedenko
Devean George
Kareem Rush
Horace Grant
Brian Cook
Bryon Russell
Luke Walton
Head Coach Larry Brown
Point Guard Chauncey Billups
Shooting Guard Richard Hamilton
Small Forward Tayshaun Prince
Power Forward Rasheed Wallace
Center Ben Wallace
Reserve Mehmet Okur
Corliss Williamson
Mike James
Elden Campbell
Lindsey Hunter
Darvin Ham
Darko Miličić
Tremaine Fowlkes

Series summary

Team/Game 1 2 (OT) 3 4 5

Los Angeles (West) 75 99 68 80 87 1
Detroit (East) 87 91 88 88 100 4
  • (OT) denotes a game that required overtime.


  • Game 1 – June 6, Sunday, 6:00 p.m. PDT, at Los Angeles Detroit 87, Los Angeles 75: Detroit leads series 1–0
  • Game 2 – June 8, Tuesday, 6:00 p.m. PDT, at Los Angeles Los Angeles 99, Detroit 91 (OT): Series tied 1–1
  • Game 3 – June 10, Thursday, 9:00 p.m. EDT, at Detroit Detroit 88, Los Angeles 68: Detroit leads series 2–1
  • Game 4 – June 13, Sunday, 9:00 p.m. EDT, at Detroit Detroit 88, Los Angeles 80: Detroit leads series 3–1
  • Game 5 – June 15, Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. EDT, at Detroit Detroit 100, Los Angeles 87: Detroit wins series 4–1

The Finals were played using a 2–3–2 site format, where the first two and last two games are held at the team with home court advantage. This is only used in the Finals, all other playoff games are held in a 2–2–1–1–1 format (the team with home court advantage starts).

This was the first Finals series to be played on the current Sunday–Tuesday–Thursday rotation. It is also the last series to have Game 1 be played on a Sunday. Starting with the 2005 series, the Finals have had a predetermined, Thursday night date for Game 1.


The NBA heavily publicized the series as it has done with all other NBA Finals series. There was a sentiment among fans that the Pistons were the clear underdogs, and many described the series as a David vs. Goliath match-up. The Lakers had a lineup of Stars such as Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O'Neal - their offensive capability was expected to overpower Detroit's defensive-based game plan.

Payton and Malone also added to the publicity of the Finals. Perennial All-Stars who had both previously reached the Finals, Payton had led the Seattle SuperSonics there in 1996, while Malone had led the Utah Jazz there in 1997 and 1998. However, Michael Jordan and the Bulls denied them championship rings a total of three times. By the time of Jordan's second retirement in 1998, the two veterans were aged and failed to lead their teams deep into the playoffs. It would be Malone's final chance to win a championship, as he would retire before the subsequent season.

Game One

Sunday, June 6, 2004, 14:30 at the Staples Centermarker.

Considered to be a stunning upset by most of the NBA world, the Detroit Pistons managed to defeat the Lakers with imposing defense. Defensively clamping down on everyone but Bryant and O'Neal, the Pistons managed to hold everyone else to a total of 16 points.

The Pistons trailed the Lakers 41–40 at halftime, but by the fourth quarter the Pistons had opened up a 13 point lead; they would not trail for the rest of the game.

Team 1st Qt. 2nd Qt. 3rd Qt. 4th Qt. Total
Detroit 22 18 24 23 87
Los Angeles 19 22 17 17 75

Game Two

Tuesday, June 8, 2004, 15:04 at the Staples Center.

The second game wasn't close throughout the first half, but in the third quarter the Pistons scored 30 points, cutting the deficit 68–66. Kobe Bryant's 3-point shot with 2.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter would force overtime, where the Pistons would make only one two-point field goal (compared to Los Angeles scoring ten points).

Team 1st Qt. 2nd Qt. 3rd Qt. 4th Qt. OT Total
Detroit 16 20 30 23 2 91
Los Angeles 18 26 24 21 10 99

Game Three

Thursday, June 10, 2004, 14:31 at The Palace of Auburn Hillsmarker.

The Pistons beat Los Angeles by 20 in their first NBA Finals appearance together at The Palace of Auburn Hills since 1989 to take a 2–1 lead in the series. The 68 points scored by the Lakers set a franchise record for the fewest number of points scored in a playoff game.

Team 1st Qt. 2nd Qt. 3rd Qt. 4th Qt. Total
Los Angeles 16 16 19 17 68
Detroit 24 15 24 25 88

Game Four

Sunday, June 13, 2004, 14:49 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Again, the Pistons defeated the Lakers, although this time by eight, to take a 3–1 series advantage.

O'Neal scored 36 for the Lakers and Bryant scored 20 but shot 32 percent from the field.

Malone would play his last game, as a knee injury would not allow him to dress in Game Five.
Team 1st Qt. 2nd Qt. 3rd Qt. 4th Qt. Total
Los Angeles 22 17 17 24 80
Detroit 21 20 15 32 88

Game Five

Tuesday, June 15, 2004, 14:32 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

In Game 5, the Pistons won their first championship since 1990, and Larry Brown finally won a professional title. The Pistons defense had overcome the high-scoring Laker offense, winning the game by 13, winning the series 4-1, and also ending a long Laker dynasty that lasted for many years. The game saw the end of Phil Jackson's first run as the coach (he returned in the 2005-06 season), and saw O'Neal, Payton, and Malone's last games in Laker uniforms. At the end of the series, Al Michaels observed that the Lakers had Hall of Fame players, while the Pistons used players that nobody else wanted.

Team 1st Qt. 2nd Qt. 3rd Qt. 4th Qt. Total
Los Angeles 24 21 14 28 87
Detroit 25 30 27 18 100

Broadcast notes

The games were broadcast on ABC by Al Michaels and Doc Rivers.

To promote the series, the NBA used the Black Eyed Peas' song "Let's Get It Started", which it had also used throughout the 2004 NBA Playoffs.


  • The current NBA Finals logo was inspired from the old NBA Finals logos used from 1986 to 1995. A trophy was painted on the floor at mid-court which has a become a tradition in the Finals since this one.
  • The Detroit Pistons became the first team to sweep the middle three games at home since the 2-3-2 format started in 1985. In 1990, against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Pistons became the first team to sweep the three middle games on the road and since then, it's been done twice by the road team, Chicago in 1991 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001. The Miami Heat would later carry out the same at-home feat in the 2006 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.
  • Larry Brown became the first, and so far only coach to win both an NCAA Title, which he had done with Kansas in 1988, and an NBA Championship.
  • With the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup, William Davidson became the first, and to this date, the only, professional sports owner to win both NBA and NHL championship in the same year.

See also


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