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Pistons Interviews




/ June 13, 2004

The Detroit Pistons lead the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals 2 games to 1. Game 4 is Sunday night in Detroit. Here's what various Pistons said to the media on Saturday.


Q: You've coached a lot of teams in the NBA, how does this team rank in being mentally tough compared to the other good teams you've coached?

Brown: That's hard for me to -- I would hate to compare teams. But I do believe that this is truly a team in every sense of the word. There's great respect for the game and their teammates, and I think what you're probably talking about is when we've had difficult times or difficult losses, I think there's a sense -- their feelings for each other really plays an important part in the way we are able to bounce back, so from that standpoint, this is a pretty special group.

I know when I was with Philly and Indiana, the last two stops, I remember in the summertime, so many people would come up to me and tell me how much they respected how hard our guys played. And since this is my first year here, I would sense I'm going to get the same kind of comments when this is all over.

Q: Throughout the playoffs, you guys have had some difficulties dealing with prosperity, being up in a series and perhaps relaxing a little bit and not maintaining that level of play, how do you guard against that going into tomorrow?

Brown: Well, obviously, I've failed in some of those cases, but, you know, I try to point out with each game that we should just try to understand, we've got to play each possession the right way and not get caught up in, you know, the game or the importance of the game or what happened in the previous game. And I've tried to do that throughout the playoffs.

You know, it is a concern, I think, of every coach, especially after you have a big win against a great team to all of a sudden forget that they are a great team and maybe lose sight of why we won the game. That concerns every coach, but, you know, I'm just going to focus on the next possession and how we can be the best at that possession and then move forward.

Q: Yesterday somebody asked you about your team lacking superstars or whatever, but one guy in particular, Richard Hamilton, can you just address how his body work in the whole playoffs, how he has sort of risen to that elite level?

Brown: Well, I think I said we do have superstars, but, you know, people judge superstars in different ways. I always think they are the guys that make your teammates better. Rip has just really, really improved. I think it started playing with Michael because Rip talks to me all the time about the things that he learned from Michael. Obviously, coming here and playing under Rick Carlisle, there were different things that were emphasized here that I think helped him. Rick was a really defensive-minded coach, and somebody that was more inclined to have multiple guys involved in the offense, depending on who had the mismatch or who created the double team, so he learned there.

Then, you know, with me, I've tried to ask him to be a complete player in terms of sharing the ball. But I think the progress he's made in every area, he's always been a scorer. But now I think he's become more of a complete player. He's gotten better defensively. He's become a much better passer. He keeps telling me what a great rebounder he is. (Laughter) But I think in that regard, he's moved himself up, and, you know, when they were talking about the Olympic team, even before the first group was picked, his name was one of the names that was mentioned. So I think that shows you the respect they have for him.

Q: Coach Phil Jackson, just as he does in every series, pointed out that they were not getting a fair whistle. Do you think that has any effect whatsoever on the next game?

Brown: I know he only has one finger left to get a ring on. (Laughter) You know, we have the best officials in the League in the playoffs. All I know is they took 27 three-pointers in the last game, more than a third of their shots. And you guys got on me for not fouling the 3-point shooter. (Laughter) So, I just hope some day I can be just like that guy. (Laughter).

Q: If this turns out to be your NBA championship, how closely will this team and the job you've done represent what you're about as a coach?

Brown: Well, I mean, we're a long way from achieving that goal, and I understand that. I've said this numerous times, I mean, I know how important it is to win an NBA championship, and I know how special it is because I'm looking, there's only one guy in our league who ever wins it, and he's not happy with that.

But it takes a special group of players and a special coaching staff and organization to win one, and I'd love to be a part of that, because I think our team does play the right way. I think you guys have all talked about that. We defend, we share the ball, we play hard and that's what I was taught.

But, I'd be silly not to recognize what they do. I think they play the right way. You know, they utilize two great players. They have won tough games, they have won away from home in crucial games, and to win a trophy, nobody understands more than I do how difficult it is.

But again, I look, as a coach, I want our guys to play up to their potential every single night and try to play the right way, and I think the only way you as a coach can get that done is if you have good guys that are willing to do it, and we do. And I hope their reward would be an opportunity to win a championship. That would make me feel about as good as I could be.

Q: What went through your mind last summer when you saw Gary Payton and Karl Malone sign with the Lakers and give up millions of dollars to win a title?

Brown: I thought it was great for our league. I thought it was great for the young kids in the League that get so wrapped up in things that really don't matter, and to show what it means to win a championship. You know, unfortunately, a lot of people's careers are judged based on winning a championship, but, you know, to know what Malone has accomplished in his career and what Gary has done in his career, to say that's the one thing missing, I want to go to a team that has a real chance, I thought that was what our young people needed to hear.

You know, it's a tough situation for me now because I really respect what those guys have done throughout their careers. I know Karl and Gary, but, you know, we're trying to accomplish something. We've got some guys, maybe their careers haven't been as special in terms of the effect they have had on their team, but Elden Campbell is something that has been as great a teammate and pro as anyone I've ever been around. Lindsey is the only one on our team that's ever experienced that. So it would be pretty neat.

And I think if we ever did win one, guys like Ben Wallace, guys that are just hard-working, unselfish guys, maybe would send a similar message that Gary and Karl have.


Q: Larry talked about what respect you guys have for each other, how tough you are mentally, how has that helped you in the playoffs and the NBA Finals in particular?

Billups: You talking about me personally, me and Larry?

Q: The whole team, how he's taught you to respect each other and get along, mental toughness.

Billups: I think we have a mutual respect for one another. You know, like I said, time and time again, we both work extremely hard to get to this point and know that, we both know that. I think without mental toughness, you don't get to this point. The road that we've traveled, I think that we've played three of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference to get here: The first round we get Milwaukee, and they really were the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference the entire season. One shot, the last play of the game, last game of the season, propelled them to sixth, so we get them and we get Jersey and we get Indiana. It was a tough road for us to get here and we know the Lakers had a tough road with Houston, who was a tough opponent for them in the regular season and you get San Antonio and Minnesota. So I think it is, it's a mutual respect for one another to know that mentally we stayed strong for the whole thing and now we are battling one another.

Q: There was a situation earlier in your rookie year in Boston, you guys were playing Miami, you go against Tim Hardaway and Rick Pitino yanked you out of the game. Might have been the first home game, took you out and put you back in the game and right after the game, Tim Hardaway came to the locker room and said, "don't worry about that. You're going to be a really good, player one day." Could you revisit that and have the words stuck with you, especially now you're in a situation and are playing so well in a championship series, you now are kind of reflecting back from then until this point?

Billups: You know, that meant a lot to me. Man, I was a rookie. It was maybe 10th, 11th game of the season and I was playing and Coach Pitino had taken me out for I don't know what, and then put me back in the game. And afterwards, you know, I'm leaving the locker room and Tim Hardaway called me over and he sat me down and was just like, "man, listen, everybody don't coach like that. You know, you're the No. 3 pick for a reason. You're going to be a great player. Just be patient. Take your time and learn the NBA game. You've got a great body, you can score, you've got all the tools, you've got all the tools, just be patient with yourself. I love your game, I'm a big fan of your game. I know you can make it, so don't get down on yourself."

So for a guy like him, to meet me to tell me that, who I respect him so much and respect his game so much, it meant a lot to me. It gave me a lot of confidence in it. It had helped me to keep my head up through tough situations, you know what I mean.

So that was a huge point in my career for a guy like him to step up, and I'm playing against him, and to step up and say, you know what, keep your head up, kid.

Q: Larry has talked about how hard he is on his point guards, and was there a process of you getting used to him and him getting used to you? And are you a different player now than you were a year ago?

Billups: Larry is, he's tough. He's tough on me, and not just me, even our backup point guard. He's tough and it was a learning curve that we went through. It was some tough times where, you know -- like I said, I'm unlike a lot of the players that he's coached at my position. He's more of a -- when he won, he played a pure point guard/passing point guard and I'm a scoring point guard.

So, it presented a different challenge for him, too, than it was to coach Eric Snow or Mark Jackson he had in Indiana. It was a little different. But like I said, I think we both sacrificed a lot to get to that happy medium to make it a very healthy relationship, because we do, we have a great relationship now.

Q: Were there moments you wondered if it was going to work?

Billups: Not really if it would work, just, you know, at what point, how long will it take me to get comfortable with what he liked. I know that it would work, because, I mean, I've been in a lot of situations, as you all know, and a lot of them haven't worked out, a couple of them have. So, you know, I can deal with a lot of different situations, but it was a matter of how long would it take, how long will it take him to learn my game and learn what I like to do, and how long will it take me to figure out what he wants out of me, and what he wants me to do out there and when can I be an extension of him out there.

You know, it's still not finished. We're still not -- I'm still not a finished product. I'm still not an extension of him entirely out there, but the more we're together, we'll get there.

Q: How are his expectations for you different than the other coaches you've played for in this league?

Billups: Well, for one, you know, now, finally, I'm running my team. You know, this is my situation. A lot of the situations I've been in, I wasn't the guy. When I was in Minnesota, I kind of inherited the position because Terrell Brandon was hurt, so it really wasn't my ideal.

But now, you know, it's my team to run, pretty much, so that's a lot different than any other situation that I've been in. So, we kind of have no choice but to work with one another and make one another happy, because, you know, I don't think any one of us are going anywhere soon.

Q: At the end of last game, Kobe started picking you up 94 feet. It was almost like they were trying to build and get something going for the next game as a desperation act to get back in. You not only accepted that challenge, but I could have sworn I saw you kind of smile at one point, like, I want this, I'm enjoying this, or whatever; what was it that appealed to you about what they were doing?

Billups: Well, he was just -- I thought he was really frustrated, really with, how the game was going. We were up 17, 18 points and so I thought he just kind of tried to take it on his own and kind of get back in the game, or, you know, to get the intensity up. So he picked me up and I loved it man, I loved it. (Smiling) It's a great challenge for me, and also, I feel like, if he can start picking me up full court, I'm just going to be running off pick-and-rolls, I think we'll be able to wear him down on the offensive end, and it will make it a lot easier on Rip and Tayshaun and those guys. It was great, though. I did, I liked that.

Q: You talked about being an extension of Larry, and wanting to get there, have you always wanted that or is that something you've matured into where you can see yourself being an extension of your coach?

Billups: Well, I've always wanted that. I've always wanted that. So many times, I haven't really had that opportunity. I didn't play as many minutes to be that extension. I didn't spend enough time with the coach. I didn't spend enough time in a certain city or a certain situation, you know, to get that. I've played for eight or nine different coaches maybe, man, so I haven't had time. But I've always wanted to get there and just to be able to know everything about the game that I could possibly know, and I think the only way you can do that is to, you know, really study that coach and spend a little time with him and know what he thinks and when he's thinking it.

Q: How would you characterize the confidence of your team now through three games in this series?

Billups: I think we're very confident. We're riding confidence right now that's as high as it's been all season. Coming into a series that we felt we had a good chance, you know, being competitive and having a chance to win a series, but nobody else felt that. We knew we were the only ones that believed in us and are coming in here really to have outplayed that team for three straight games, it's confidence. You know, that's a lot of confidence for us. Especially with the first two games being on the road, so, we're very confident bunch right now. But like I said yesterday, it's 2-1 right now, and this is -- this series is so far from over right now, it's unbelievable. I mean, 3-0 is a lot different from 2-1. 3-0 is out the window. It's 2-1. We've got a game tomorrow that is probably the most pivotal game of the series, and we understand that.

Like I said, we're confident, but we know that in all actuality, we haven't done that much yet. We are at home and great teams are supposed to win at home, so we haven't done anything.

Q: You guys know the trouble you've had having prosperity, do you need, as captain, to say anything at this point or do you think the guys have already learned the lesson from the other fall-back games?

Billups: I think we learned a lesson. The reason why I really think that is because of the way we came out the other night after losing that tough one in L.A., you know, we didn't talk about it before the game. It was just like everybody was on the same page. We didn't talk about being -- being extra aggressive, just when we got in the huddle, everybody had their game face on. I think we learned some valuable lessons and I think that's one of them. Hopefully, you know, we can come out tomorrow and be just as aggressive at the start of the game tomorrow as we were the other day and continue that for 48 straight minutes.

Q: For those of us who watched you guys play in the previous two rounds, the concept and notion that you can be averaging 88 points a game against the Lakers is mind-boggling. What is it you are doing offensively that enables you to score that you could not do in the previous two?

Billups: Not that much, man, not that much. I mean, I talk about it all the time. You're looking at the Indiana series, you're looking at two -- you're looking at the No. 1 defensive team in us and the No. 3 in Indiana. And, two teams that are really trying to play halfcourt basketball, and two teams that are running the same exact sets. How many points can you really score? It's like playing against a second unit in practice, you know what I mean, but really your second unit is equally as good as the first unit, you can't score that many points. It's tough.

The Lakers present a different challenge for us because they like to get out and run a little bit and they like to play the halfcourt triangle, but any opportunity they get out and run it, they get out and run it. I don't think they are as good of a defensive team that Indiana is, either. We are able to get into some sets and do some pick-and-rolls and down screens. Their team isn't as athletic as Indiana's team is either. They can't guard our pick-and-rolls as good, you know what I mean, as Indiana did, and down screens are tough for Shaq and Karl Malone to get out and chase Rip and give Ben and Rasheed rebound position. It's different, man.


Q: You really stepped up your game this year. Was there a time when you figured things out and took your game to the next level?

Hamilton: It’s always a learning situation anytime you come to a new team with new players and coach. I think the biggest adjustment from college to the NBA is understanding the game and knowing your competition and what you can and cannot do. I think I learned so much the last couple years. Definitely playing with MJ, a great player himself, taught me a lot of things about going from good to great and that helped me a lot.

Q: Speaking of MJ, he basically gave up on you. How did that affect you?

Hamilton: I think that was more personal than anything. I took it as “OK, I’m going to a new situation, I get a new start.” I hadn’t seen anything else but Washington. I just wanted to prove people wrong. I think it was the best situation that ever happened to me.

Q: There is a ton of pressure in the Finals, are you guys having any fun?

Hamilton: Yeah, basketball is fun! If you’re not having fun then you shouldn’t be out here doing it. I think that we’re having a good time with it. We’re still playing the same way we played all season. Playing hard and knowing that we have to come out and play even harder now.

Q: After 31 years do you think Larry Brown needs a title or do you think it would just be icing on the cake?

Hamilton: Everybody wants to win, not just Coach. I think that that’s the biggest thing we want to win for him, but we also want to win for ourselves and the city of Detroit.


Q: There’s a lot of pressure on you, obviously, but are you having fun with the Finals?

Prince: We’re definitely having fun. You have to. Like I said previously, you never really know as far as when you’re going to get here again, so you have to have fun. Definitely, like we said, this is a pivotal game for both teams. At the same time you do have to have fun, but yes indeed, this is going to be a critical game tomorrow.

Q: Has coach Brown talked to you about handling the prosperity?

Prince: Definitely. Before we got to the Finals we did a bad job of letting teams back in, not playing hard but playing poorly. Not giving a full effort, playing aggressive, and things like that. Hopefully, we can just continue with the aggressiveness and the effort, and hopefully that will get us over the hump if the shots are not going in or things are not going the right way. We definitely have to keep our composure and keep the pressure on.

Q: Can you talk about Coach Brown and the criticism he took after Game 2, and how he kept you all together?

Prince: He definitely kept us together and, for the most part, we really thought we should have won Game 2. Definitely, a big-time player took over the game with that shot, and in overtime. But once we got into that locker room after the game he said, “Let’s get this out of our heads right now before we get on this airplane back to Detroit. We definitely have to set the tone in the first home game and just try to go from there.”

Q: You know how reputations are made in the Playoffs. What has Rip Hamilton done for his reputation?

Prince: He has done a tremendous job, but he’s been doing that in the regular season as well. He’s carried us through a lot of games with his tearing on the offensive end, hitting four or five consecutive shots. He’s been doing that all season long, and he just carried it over to the playoffs. He’s been playing very aggressive throughout the whole series. We definitely put our trust in him as far as trying to get us going, offensively, getting the ball to him and making plays. We’ve been doing that all year.


Q: How has the team’s outside shooting by the guards been?

Wallace: It has been great. Anytime the guys can step off the pick-and-roll and hit a jumper it forces the Lakers to do something different. With the Lakers, we are looking to put their guards in a lot of pick-and-roll situations so that we can get them moving and if they aren’t making their shots then they are going to have to trap and make the big man slip to the basket. Or it will be a long night with just the guards shooting jump shots.

Q: How have the Palace fans been?

Wallace: The Palace fans have been unbelievable all year. Since the playoffs started they have been up and cheering all the time. Last game is probably the loudest I ever heard any crowd. As long as the fans continue to come and support us the way they are it will be great. If we can just give them a little something to cheer about, then they will get the energy flowing in the building, then the fans get us to play a little bit harder.

Q: What is the mindset of the team being up 2-1 and how you do you not get ahead of yourself?

Wallace: I mean no one has ever won a series with two games. We know that we are playing against a dangerous Lakers team and they have been to a championship before and know what it takes to win one. We definitely are not going to get complacent, we are still continuing to work on our sets and looking for little things to fix on the defensive end and hope that we can just keep this going.

Q: Can you talk about how Ben versus Shaq relates to Bill Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain?

Wallace: I think that matchup is little more even than me and Shaq. You can measure a guy’s weight, but you can’t measure the size of a guy’s heart. I am just out there just playing off heart, there is nothing about skill or talent that I am doing out there. I am just out there fighting and doing whatever I can do to help my team win the game.


Q: You guys throughout the course of the playoffs have had some problems in terms of reacting to big wins, they have been followed by some disappointing losses. This looks like a similar situation, how do you guard against that the next day or so and take your best game into tomorrow night?

Wallace: Just got to go out there and play, you know, we can't think about the things that happened to us last series, and the series with New Jersey. We've just got to go out there and play tomorrow. We know tomorrow is going to be a pivotal game in the series; it's either going to be 2-2 or 3-1, so I think tomorrow is going to be the toughest game. But we are up for a challenge.

Q: When you look at the beginnings of this Lakers dynasty, for lack of a better word, you can look at that comeback in Portland a few years back. What's your memories of that game and what happened?

Wallace: Matter of fact, I ain't going to answer that for the simple fact I'm pretty ticked off with everybody asking me about that question all the time.

You know, Portland is over and done with. Right now I'm just focusing on Detroit and tomorrow.

Q: What did you think of the Pistons as a team before you got here, and what do you think you bring in terms of intangibles, not necessarily on-court stuff?

Wallace: You know, I still thought they were a hell of a team. Even before this year, before the last few years, I think they were good teams. They were always great on defense, and when I was with Portland, coming here was never a cake walk. It was always going to be work, with me going up against Ben and Corliss, guys like that.

But as far as bringing intangibles to the court, my offense has been slow, but I'm not worried about that because we pick it up on the defense, and it's just, like you said, the little things, knowing when to double the big man. Knowing when to try to double the guards coming across half-court or whatever. Certain times of the game, I think those are some of the things that I bring to add to this monster defense already.

Q: Did you think this team needed a little edge, also?

Wallace: I'm not sure. I'm not sure with that, for the simple fact, like I said, they were the second-best team in the East before I got here, so to me, you know, they were on a hell of a roll.

Q: You've been out west for a long time, what did you think of the east in general before you got here?

Wallace: You know, east always -- that's where I was born and raised, in Philadelphia. I'm a big East coast boiler. The biggest difference to just going out west that, was the biggest transition because they run a little bit more. But once you get used to that, you're pretty much similar or cool with both styles.

Q: Are you getting tired of hearing the Lakers say that you win the games because of the things they do not do instead of the things that you do?

Wallace: Well, actually, no. It just makes it more interesting for us. That gets us more hungry. You know, just got to go out there and play. They say that it's not our defense and, you know, they are missing shots. And pretty much it could be a little bit of both. You knows, as far as what they are saying about our defense, we are not worried about it, we worried about everybody, and the Detroit Pistons, that's what we have to go out there and do. We know what we can do.

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