LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left, then scored four of his 33 points in overtime to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 99-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons in Game 2 on Tuesday night, evening the NBA finals at one game apiece. Game 3 is Thursday night in Detroit.
Shaquille O'Neal (search) added six of his 29 points in overtime against the demoralized Pistons, who were 45 seconds away from a shocking two-game series lead.
Instead, Bryant's shot over Richard Hamilton provided the shock, and Detroit stumbled to the lowest-scoring overtime in NBA Finals history, managing just two points on 1-for-9 shooting.
Bryant had to take this shot. He wanted the clock near zero, a longtime rival in his face and the Lakers' destiny on his shoulders. He loves a challenge as much as Los Angeles loves drama. And when Bryant had everything he wanted, he did what the greats do: He made a shot that might have changed the NBA Finals.
During the most trying year of his life, Bryant has found his greatest peace on the court — the place where he feels he always can control the outcome. The Pistons thought they had their second straight victory after taking a six-point lead in the final minute of regulation, but Bryant still was in control.
"It's all about rising to the challenge," Bryant said. "High stakes. I know I can rise to that."
In the locker room, the Pistons wore the dazed looks of so many Lakers opponents over the past five seasons. There was unspeakable frustration of playing a superb game, yet still not being good enough to overcome the sheer will of Shaq and Kobe.
Instead of criticizing his team for blowing its lead or freezing up in overtime, Pistons coach Larry Brown had nothing but praise for everyone — particularly Bryant.
"That's why he's so special," Brown said. "After what the kid's been through all year, more power to him, because he's a great, great young man. The way he conducts himself on the court and the way he plays this game makes me feel kind of good I'm part of it."
Game 3 is Thursday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills (search), the first of three straight games in the Detroit suburb.
The Pistons outplayed the Lakers in the second half of both games at Staples Center (search). They won Game 1 going away, an 87-75 victory that should have snapped the Lakers to attention.
Instead, Los Angeles again struggled to execute its offense, and Chauncey Billups again shredded the Lakers' perimeter defense for 27 points and nine assists. Hamilton also returned to playoff form, scoring 26 points and keeping Bryant busy with his perpetual-motion style.
The Lakers took an 11-point lead in the third quarter, but Detroit tied it early in the fourth. The Pistons made a 14-6 run in the final minutes, capped by Ben Wallace's rebound dunk for an 89-83 lead — their biggest of the game — with 47.8 seconds left.
"We're been through a lot together, and we've been in situations like this before," O'Neal said. "We know that (with) a minute left, anything could happen."
O'Neal got free in the paint with 35.9 seconds left, hitting a layup and the ensuing free throw. Billups couldn't make a tough runner, setting up Bryant for one more career-defining shot on his overstuffed resume.
"Me and Kobe have been going at it for a long, long time," said Hamilton, Bryant's high-school rival in Philadelphia. "That wasn't the first big shot he made, you know, but he made it. It's tough to take it."
O'Neal and Bryant both played with five fouls in the closing minutes, but neither made a mistake that might have been catastrophic to the Lakers' hopes for a fourth title in five seasons. No team has rallied to win the NBA Finals after losing the first two games at home.
The Lakers' superstars again got almost no help from their teammates, though rookie Luke Walton provided seven points, eight assists and a surprising spark after sitting out Game 1. Karl Malone's nine points led the rest of the Lakers — but the Mailman also sprained a ligament in his right knee early in the game.
The rest of the Pistons weren't much help to Hamilton and Billups, either. Rasheed Wallace had just 11 points on 5-for-14 shooting, while Tayshaun Prince scored just five points in 47 minutes.
And if the NBA Finals turn into a game of two-on-two, the smart money always will be on Shaq and Kobe.
"As far as my professional career, this is probably the biggest shot I ever hit in my career, period," Bryant said, before adding with a grin: "I have to put it second behind a shot that I hit to beat Rip in high school."