Thousands of fans screamed in adoration Thursday and strained against protecting police for hugs and handshakes from the Detroit Pistons, who narrowly missed dethroning the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA title.

A crowd estimated by police at up to 40,000, swelled by public school students whose classes ended Wednesday, jammed the Riverside Hart Plaza under sunny skies and temperatures that had dropped to the 70s from the sultry 98 of a day earlier.Screams for the Eastern Conference champions never ceased, the volume increasing with each word as the city's heroes tried to shout above the screams.

Isiah Thomas, the wounded team captain who scored 43 points in a 1-point loss in Game 6 and played on a severely sprained ankle in the 108-105 Game 7 loss, drew the loudest cheers.

"Just as you love us, we love you, too," Thomas said. "We're not Hollywood. "We're just a bunch of hardworking people the same as you are. Next year it will be even harder to make it to the NBA finals and even harder to win it, because everybody will be shooting at us. But with your support, we can do it."