The Pistons were able to finish 2nd overall in the Central Division, behind the Indiana Pacers. Led by new coach Larry Brown and boosted by the trade deadline acquisition of forward Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons advanced to the 2004 NBA Finals, where they defeated the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers in four games to one, winning their third overall championship and first since 1990.
Los Angeles Lakers with Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Garry Payton and Karl Malone lost against Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace.
Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers 2004 NBA Finals
"Nobody gave us a chance, but we felt we had a great chance," said Billups, the finals MVP with 21 points and 5.2 assists per game. "They had Shaq and Kobe, but we just felt we were a better
Detroit swarmed the Lakers throughout the series with team defense and a pass-first offense L.A. simply couldn't match. The Pistons would take three of their four victories by double-digits and easily closed out the series with a 100-87 Game 5 victory.
"It's about players," said Brown after winning his first NBA championship after 21 years of professional coaching. "This sport is about players playing the right way and showing kids that you can be a team and be successful and it's great for our league."
"This team is built on defense, everybody knows that," said Wallace, who finished five incredible games of defense on O'Neal, held 10 points below his career NBA Finals average. "They've got a lot of offensive weapons, but we got up in them pretty good."
"We did it the right way: working hard, working together," said president of basketball operations Joe Dumars, who built the first championship team in Detroit since his playing days. "This isn't a star system we've got here. I just think this is the ultimate team."