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Pistons throw everyone for loop

Once Al Attles started hearing about how great the Los Angeles Lakers were and how they were going to make short work of the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals, he knew the Pistons had the Lakers right where they wanted them.

That's because Attles, who coached the Golden State Warriors past the Washington Bullets in the 1975 Finals, has heard all that talk before, namely 29 years ago, when the chatter centered on how the heavily favored Bullets would make short order of the Warriors.

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What happened, of course, was that Golden State swept Washington in four games, in one of the biggest upsets in professional sports history.

"What people didn't realize was that we had become a better basketball team," said Attles, now a Warriors executive. "When you don't see them on a daily basis, you don't realize that they've gotten better. I didn't agree with the reasoning, but I understood.

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"The same thing applies here. For a long time, people have been saying ... the East is just going to be fodder for teams in the West, and the Lakers with the four possible Hall of Famers. ... [But] once you get on the floor, all the accolades that people have for you and what they say about you have no control over what happens on the floor."

Indeed, the Pistons, who polished off the Lakers in five games, seemed to have adopted a similar approach to the Warriors.

Let the glamour boys win the attention. We'll take the trophy.

"Nobody gave us a chance against these guys, but we knew all along that we belonged," said Detroit center Ben Wallace, who recorded 22 rebounds, 18 points and three steals in the clinching game Tuesday night. "This is why you play the games. It's a great feeling. There were a bunch of guys on this team who felt they had something to prove."

Indeed, the Pistons took care of business against a seemingly unbeatable opponent, in much the same way the Portland Trail Blazers took out the star-studded Philadelphia 76ers in the 1977 Finals, after spotting the 76ers the first two games.

In baseball, one could perhaps equate what the Pistons' accomplished to the Cincinnati Reds' stunning 1990 sweep of the Oakland Athletics or the Florida Marlins beating the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series in six games.

Baltimore sports fans of an older generation will certain remember when a heavily favored local team got beaten by a band of upstarts.

The year was 1969, and the Orioles romped through the American League East, winning 109 games, before sweeping Minnesota in the first American League Championship Series.

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The way seemed clear for the franchise's second World Series title, with a win over the New York Mets just a formality, much like the Pistons were only supposed to be a speed bump for the Lakers.

As Baltimoreans will never forget, the speed bump stopped the Orioles, four games to one. First baseman Boog Powell said he believes, 35 years later, that the Orioles were a better team and would have proved that over a longer period of time.

"You can't take anything away from the Mets," Powell said yesterday. "They were a good ballclub. They made things happen; they got dirtier than we did. They were doing things and winning ballgames like we were winning ballgames. You look at them and there's [reserve outfielder Ron] Swoboda diving for balls. It was almost like we were waiting around for something to happen, and nothing ever happened."

By contrast, Clifford Ray said his Warriors, who had won 12 fewer games in the regular season than the Bullets (60-22), knew right off the bat that they had Washington.

"I thought it after the first game," said Ray, who averaged 6.1 points and 9.8 rebounds in the playoffs while splitting time at center with George Johnson. "We were just so fast and so athletic and quick. You can overcome a lot of things, but quickness is a problem. When a team is quick and gets the ball off the glass, they're hard to beat. George Johnson and myself were All-Star centers or were of All-Star caliber. Together, we did what the superstar centers did. Together, we were the best center in the league that year. Well, we won the championship, so we had to be."

The Pistons will go into sports lore as one of the biggest Davids to knock off a Goliath, but as Powell tells it, the giant eventually gets to sleep soundly.

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"I guess we were cast in a role like the Lakers, but I don't feel that way and I never felt that way," Powell said. "I don't dwell on things like that. Certainly, I was disappointed that we lost, but [stuff] happens. ... Hell, we played as good as we could. Those New York people just needed it worse than Baltimore did."

NOTE: Detroit's title-clinching win was the second-highest rated NBA Finals game since 1998, and the series was the highest rated since 2001.

ABC's broadcast of Detroit's 100-87 win got a 13.8 rating with a 23 share. That's 123 percent higher than Game 5 between San Antonio and New Jersey (6.2) last year. The only Finals game since 1998 that got a higher rating was Game 6 between the Pacers and Lakers (14.7) in 2000.

The rating is the percentage of all homes with TVs, whether or not they are in use. Share is the percentage of homes with TVs in use. Each rating point represents about 1.08 million households.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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