The Detroit Pistons team from 2003-04 was certainly one of the best teams in the NBA during that decade but was also one of the more underrated teams as well. A defensive minded team who played with physicality, toughness and grit. Many of the players were all-stars and were the cream of the crop in their respective positions. This team has many factors that should make them on par with well known champions.
Style of Play
The way that the Detroit Pistons played was not fun basketball to watch by any means. As someone once said, “defense wins championships.” Well, that applies to the 2003-04 Pistons beautifully. The team was composed of defensive minded players who knew what the job was. To get under the opponents skin and play very physical to wear down their opponents. Not only did they all play lock down defense but many of the players were able to switch effectively.
Switching was not seen much during this era because everything was oriented down low in the post. Almost every player could switch 1 through 5, even their center Ben Wallace was able to do that and was impactful. With playing great defense comes not scoring the ball as effectively. One game in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers had a final score of 69-65 in which the Pistons won. The play by both teams was very physical but the Pistons seemed to have that edge not only in this playoff series but for that whole season. The style may not be fun, but it is certainly effective en route to an NBA championship.
The group of players on this Pistons is certainly underrated to say the least. Players like Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace had a massive impact on winning a championship. These players had an impact on both sides of the ball which led to a championship. These players may fly under the radar but they were critical to the success of the team.
Billups was the floor general for the Pistons and had a reputation for having a phenomenal defensive game while being polished offensively. He earned the nickname Mr. Big Shot while being able to hit clutch shots late in the game. The floor general abilities allowed his teammates to know where to go and what play will be run. Billups was an underrated floor general and shot maker as well as a defensive prowess.
Going from the 1 to the 5 we have Ben Wallace. He is the epitome of a defensive juggernaut and showed that every single night. His shot blocking ability, his rebounding ability and athleticism was huge for this squad. Although he was undersized at 6’7, Wallace showed that he was the defensive leader for the team. He would hustle on every play and give it his all on every single possession which is critical for a team in pursuit of a championship.
The amount of accolades this team received during and after their trip to the NBA finals was nothing short of amazing. The awards were certainly a boost of energy and momentum towards winning a championship.
Detroit ended the season having the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference, only behind the Indiana Pacers and the New Jersey Nets. The defensive culture kept going, as the Pistons were 2nd in the NBA for points allowed with 84.3 and 2nd in the NBA for defensive rating with 95.4.
During the course of the NBA playoffs, Mr. Big Shot definitely showed up on the big stage. Billups ended up winning the Finals MVP for his work against Kobe Bryant, as well as his team play. He averaged 21 points, 5.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds. Although the numbers don’t seem that impressive compared to today’s, the pace was much slower as the average team would score between 80-90 points a game. When Billups showed up, so did his running mate Ben Wallace.
The story of the finals initially would be that Shaquille O’Neal would destroy Ben Wallace in the post. Actually, the story seemed to be reversed. Wallace was so strong that Shaq had a difficult time trying to out muscle him. Along with the athleticism of Wallace, it seemed that Shaq met his maker during this NBA finals matchup. As good as his defense was, Ben Wallace did something throughout his career that many players in the history of the league have not been able to do. He won four defensive player of the year awards which is tied for the most in league history.
As the story of the best teams to win a championship are always told, be sure not to forget about the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons. Their grit, determination and culture allowed them to win a championship against an established dynasty.