One of the prime defensive assets of the 2004 NBA championship-winning Detroit Pistons, lanky 6’9″ forward Tayshaun Prince, was voted to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team four times (2005-2008). This lefty defensive specialist certainly gave quite a few headaches to some of the leading players offensive players in the game, such as Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and Cavaliers rising star LeBron James. In 2017, he shared his most unique memories of those special match-ups with the NBA on TNT crew.
When you guard these guys and coach gives you a scouting report, you listen to the scouting report. But at the same time, you say, ‘I’m a good defender, I will use some of that.’ But at the same time, I gotta use what I have, what a God-given ability God gave me – this length to play a factor, and this (mind) played a factor.Tayshaun Prince, via KG Area 21
Early Matchups vs. Kobe Bryant
Prince came to the Detroit Pistons in 2002, just when the Lakers ended their first new millennium three-peat (2000, 2001, 2002). Although the 6’9″ Kentucky standout sat out the most of his rookie campaign, new Pistons head coach Larry Brown quickly realized how good of a defensive stopper he had on his team.
In his second season, Prince became the regular starter at the small forward spot for the team, which surprised many by beating the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals by 4-1! The best Lakers offensive ‘juggernaut’ Kobe Bryant did in that series was scoring 33 points on 14-27 shooting in game two, which the Lakers won in the overtime. Compton Kid held the Kobe guard to a meager average of 20 points per game for the rest of the series, on 33.7% shooting from the field!
With Kobe, there was a sense of you have to make sure that you don’t let him get to ‘sweet spots’ because it was a rhythm thing with Kobe. Get to footwork, know what he wanted to do. The fadeaway, stuff like that. He is 6’6″, I’m 6’9″, let me use my length. If I could just stay close, stay on the ground and jump, and give good contests, I’ll bother it a little bit. He’s gonna be physical with you; you want to try to wear him down. They let him get with everything. He tries to wear you down.Tayshaun Prince, via KG Area 21
Battling with LeBron James
The rising Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James was a completely different defensive story for tyreless Prince. The Cavaliers big man would set a countless pick for their rising star that possessed a previously unseen mixture of size, strength, and speed. Prince would have to battle through all of these picks to gain the best possible position fronting LeBron. He knew that by meeting LBJ ‘on equal terms,’ he would have a much better chance of slowing him down.
With LeBron, it was a physicality standpoint. Beat you up, muscle to the rim, trying to be just super-physical. The thing with LeBron, I could never get on the side of him. Always stay in front, always stay here. Because the minute you get on aside, it’s over. And that’s when the pick & roll game came into place. I would say to my teammates, ‘don’t let him turn that quarter.’ If I get on his hip, it’s you and him mano a mano.Tayshaun Prince, via KG Area 21
During his stint with the Pistons, Prince did an admirable job guarding LeBron, especially in the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals, when the Cavs phenomenon pilled up as many as 31 turnovers over the grueling seven games series. It was a series in which Prince established himself as one of the most versatile defenders in the league, that was already playing on a great defensive squad that had that in their DNA.