This is arguably one of the greatest upsets in NBA Finals history as the Los Angeles Lakers entered this series at -550 odds. This was considered the last great run of the Shaq and Kobe era with Phil Jackson at the helm and it ended in disaster. Phil Jackson went so far as to write a book about the experience which was basically “I hate Kobe: the book”. That’s probably a stretch, but if you’ve read the book you know it is not very kind to Kobe. (Nor should it be.)
The Lakers did the three-peat between 1999-2002 before falling short in 2003. This was supposed to be the return to glory as they added two future Hall of Famers in Gary Payton and Karl Malone for one last run at a ring. The season was marred by the Kobe Bryant rape case, but when it came down to the Finals everyone in the world thought that the Lakers would simply grab another title. The dysfunction could be overcome to win a ring.
That was the thought, but the Pistons had something to say about that. They came in as +400 underdogs and were one of those “everything clicking right at the right time” teams. It was Larry Brown‘s first season in Detroit and he was very motivated by this squad. They made a midseason trade for Rasheed Wallace that changed their team.
Still, they had a tough road to the Finals. They went five games against the Bucks in round one and then they went seven games in round two against the Nets. Once in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers, their series went six games. It was a tough road and it’s easy to see a way that they might not have made it.
Game 1 was in Los Angeles and the Lakers were big favorites at -8, but they came out flat and only managed to score 75 points as the Pistons rolled 87-75. Despite taking the first game, this didn’t do much to change the odds of the series.
For Game 2 in LA, nothing changed and the Lakers were again favored by 8 points. The Lakers looked slightly better in this one, but still needed overtime to grab the win. The final score was 99-91 meaning that the result of this game was merely a push for LA.
With the series heading to Detroit tied 1-1, the bookmakers didn’t do much to change the odds. The first game in Detroit had Detroit as a PICK. A good rule of thumb in looking at lines in basketball is you get -2 just for playing at home so this means that the bookmakers still liked the Lakers. The Pistons destroyed LA 88-68.
The series was now 2-1 in favor of the underdog Pistons, but Vegas still thought that the Lakers were going to even it up and send it back to Los Angeles. The line was once again a PICK and once again the Pistons won, 88-80. Suddenly, the Lakers were on the verge of elimination and the bookmakers were on the verge of potentially losing some big money.
For Game 6 there was finally an adjustment made to the game’s betting line and the Pistons were favored by -3.5 points. Didn’t matter, they won 100-87 and the Detroit Pistons were champions.
What’s so shocking about this upset is just how close it wasn’t. Usually when you see an upset of this magnitude there are a couple of games that could’ve been a coinflip or a lucky break away from going the other way, but that wasn’t the case here. The Pistons dominated the Lakers and killed the dynasty.
A year later Shaq would be gone, Phil would be gone and Kobe would be by himself on a 12th place team. You have to wonder if winning this series could’ve saved them, but when you look at it closely the biggest surprise is that they actually made it this far in the first place.