The Lakers were a group of individuals; the Pistons were a team in the truest sense. But still, the NBA world was shocked after Detroit annihilated the Purple and Gold in the '04 NBA Finals.
Not Gary Payton, though. He saw it coming.
Hard pill to swallow
The Glove, alongside Karl Malone, was the Lakers' biggest acquisition going into the 03/04 NBA season. Two future Hall of Famers were brought in to help patch things up between Shaq and Kobe, and secure the organization's 4th title in five years. However, what turned out to be the dynasty's farewell season ended with a five-game series loss to the Pistons.
This one hurt me a little bit because the simple fact is, I didn't think this team was that way, the Detroit Pistons. But they were playing really good together at the time.
GP himself never shied away from the fact he joined the Lakers to chase a ring. He couldn't win one with the SuperSonics -- they lost to the Bulls in '96 -- so he tried his luck with the Lakers. But his one-year stint in LA ended the same way. And looking back on it, it's a lot harder pill to swallow.
"Going against Michael Jordan, when you know that he's been stopping a lot of teams, you'd be like, 'Okay, we ran into him and one of them great teams.' Detroit was a team where we weren't expecting the way they played," Payton said. "And they played out of their mind."
GP saw it coming
"Ben Wallace changed the game," Gary continued. "Chauncey was having a great shooting series, Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince were playing well; everybody was playing well, and Rasheed Wallace was with 'em."
Meanwhile, the Lakers were dealing with Karl Malone's knee injury in Game 3 -- he played injured in Game 4 before missing the fifth and final game of the Finals.
They had five greats too. We wasn't at full strength with our four greats. So when they started playing us and they started going through us, and their defense was just out of control, I knew we weren't going to beat them.
Let's not make too much of Malone's injury. At 42, he was in the twilight of his career, and a shell of his former self. But despite his role-player-level output -- 13.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists throughout the season; 5 pts, 7.3 rebounds in the Finals -- not having him out there hurt the Lakers' championship chances. Shaquille O'Neal went as far as to say he'd have stayed with the team had it not been for Malone's injury.
With their starting forward out, and their superstar duo on the verge of schism, LA didn't stand a chance. Even after they tied a series at one game apiece, following Kobe's three over Hamilton to force overtime, Payton felt the series was over.
The Pistons won three straight -- two by double digits -- and secured the organization's third-ever NBA title. Their dominance over one of the greatest teams ever shocked the entire NBA world.
Not GP, though. He saw it coming from the moment the series tipped off.