Pistons lose steam, and game
Even against Detroit's stiff defense, Tony Parker attacked the basket time after time.
In the battle of rust vs. fatigue, score one for rust.
The San Antonio Spurs had eight days to relax before Game 1 of the Finals, while Detroit was diving in straight from winning a tough Game 7 on the road in Miami. Thus, the question was whether the Spurs' time off would be to their benefit, or to their detriment.
The answer was a little of both as Thursday's opener consisted of two acts. In the first, the Pistons raced out to a 17-4 lead while the Spurs hunted desperately for Mike Ditka's Rust-Oleum stash. In the second, San Antonio dominated 80-52 as Detroit ran out of gas down the stretch.
The Pistons' fatigue was most evident in the little things. Richard Hamilton spent the first quarter getting free from Bruce Bowen for short jumpers, just as he'd done to Eddie Jones in Miami, but stopped getting separation as the game wore on and finished 7-for-21.
Ben Wallace, still feeling the strain of seven games of being bludgeoned by Shaquille O'Neal, seemed utterly devoid of his usual energy. He posted just five points and seven rebounds in a matchup against Nazr Mohammed that was supposed to be a huge edge for Detroit.
The Pistons' weariness showed in Rasheed Wallace's face -- and in his game.
Finally, there's the defense against Manu Ginobili. The Spurs' sneaky southpaw was unable to get much going in the first half, as his forays to the rim were repeatedly greeted by multiple defenders. But as Detroit's wall of defenders hit the wall in the fourth quarter, Manu went to work. Suddenly he was getting a step on the weary Pistons defenders, and there were fewer bodies waiting when he went to the basket.
Detroit even allowed him to go unmolested for a statue-of-liberty dunk, ending the Pistons' last-gasp rally late in the fourth quarter. It was part of Ginobili's 15-point explosion in the quarter to put the game away.
With some key players flagging, this was a contest where Detroit needed a lift from its bench. Unfortunately for the Pistons, their subs were unable to provide it. The three key reserves Antonio McDyess, Carlos Arroyo and Lindsey Hunter combined to shoot 3-for-18 and score six points.
Instead, Detroit had to keep riding the starters and by the fourth quarter they were out of steam. After Ben Wallace's unintentional, shot clock-buzzer-beating bank shot cut the Spurs' lead to two to open the quarter, the Pistons weren't heard from again. San Antonio took off on a 19-4 run that started when Tony Parker took a victory lap through Detroit's defense before a layup that the Pistons could only goaltend. The play was the first sign that the Pistons' legs were wobbly, but it wouldn't be the last.
Observations from the Alamo City:
Chris Ramsay, from the SBC Center in San Antonio
The Pistons played Pistons basketball Thursday night and they played it well. Just as they were in the '04 Finals, they were focused and hungry, defending and contesting all over the floor. They were the team we love: unselfish, committed and banded like brothers.
The only problem is, it isn't going to be enough. Not nearly enough.
Against the Lakers, who were a house divided and banged up (no Mailman), Detroit was a living, breathing monument to basketball "the right way," the perfect antidote to L.A.'s uncivilization. The Pistons clamped down on the perimeter (Kobe still has nightmares), owned the transition game (busting out with every defensive rebound like their heads were on fire) and hit timely shots from both inside and out.
But that was the Lakers, who couldn't handle Big Ben on the boards, couldn't (or wouldn't) switch out and molest shooters on the outside and were too slow to interrupt the mini-break game Chauncey and Mike James ran so well.
This is the Spurs. This is the Spurs who come with both Nazr and TD inside, who hassle everyone within half a mile who's even had a passing thought about a shot, who jam up the center of the court the way an overturned big rig blocks a two-lane highway, and who, oh by the way, can score from all five positions on the floor most any time.
I'm not slighting the Pistons, I'm really not. They are a fierce, inspiring defensive crew and a disciplined, patient, and fearless club on offense.
But you'll notice I didn't use the word "explosive" in that last sentence, and you'll see there was no call for "spurtability," "flurry," or "potent" in there either.
And that's the problem. That's the series, really.
The Pistons just don't come with enough offense against a team that defends as well as San Antonio. Period.
Detroit won four games last year against the Lakers by scoring 87, 88, 88, and 100 points in the four wins (and 91 in the one loss). The Lakers were ripe, vulnerable to what Detroit does so well.
San Antonio? Not so much. So I ask you, where or how are the Pistons going to come up with that many points four times against this Spurs team?
I ask you because frankly I just don't see it.
Going into Game 1, SportsNation voters gave the San Antonio Spurs a decisive advantage over the Detroit Pistons.
Meanwhile, the same 40 percent who saw the Pistons winning the Finals also wondered why the Pistons aren't respected by the other 60 percent.
If the series continues in the same vein as Game 1, then it will be clear that SportsNation gives the Pistons exactly the respect they deserve.
Who will win the NBA Finals?
Do the Detroit Pistons get the respect they deserve?
Play of the Day
Quote of the Night
Chris Ramsay, in San Antonio
Gimme that! When Tim Duncan tried to hide the ball in the third quarter, Ben Wallace wouldn't let him get away with it. A held ball was called, and Wallace won the tip from Duncan and then another minutes later.
The Pistons can't be really worried about this loss. The Spurs just drew first blood on their home court, which is to be expected.
But as unsurprising as this victory may have been, there are still a couple of things the Pistons have to work on.
They didn't play well as a group at all. They didn't execute, and defensively gave up too much penetration to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. This is not a team that can win when it allows the opposing backcourt to get into the lane at will.
The Pistons looked like they were coming off an emotional seven-game series and didn't have their legs completely under them. Allowing Ginobili to split defenders and attack the rim is against everything Larry Brown has instilled in them. That was a sign of a team that was tired and didn't have the legs to do what their hearts wanted them to do.
Also, the Pistons have to get a bigger contribution from their frontcourt. Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace combined for a measly 11 points and 15 rebounds. That's ridiculous and simply isn't going to get the job done against a team with a force like Tim Duncan in the middle.
To truly put the Wallace's night in proper perspective, realize that Duncan had 24 points and 17 rebounds by himself. They can't afford to lose in points and rebounds to Duncan if they want to repeat as champions.
Their poor play put too much pressure on Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton and it showed in their combined 16-for-37 shooting.
This is a team that has the ability to do a lot of damage against the Spurs if it is able to maintain its level of stoutness on the defensive end while also getting a contribution of some kind from the frontcourt.
Greg Anthony, in San Antonio
The Pistons scored 20 points in the first quarter Thursday night, but only 49 points in three subsequent quarters.
Since the adoption of the shot clock (first used in the NBA Finals in 1955), only one other team has scored fewer than 50 points over the final three quarters of a Finals game. In Game 3 in 1998, the Jazz scored only 37 points over the final three quarters in a 96-54 loss to the Bulls.
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Elliott (Berkeley): These playoffs have shown the Spurs that they can run as well as or better than anyone else in the Association. If Pop decides to run-and-gun, can the Pistons keep up?
John Hollinger: It's extremely hard for either team to push the pace that much in this series, because both teams only send two players to the offensive glass and get three back.
Detroit and San Antonio were two of the slowest paced teams in the NBA in the regular season, so don't expect either side to initiate a track meet.
What does it mean to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals?
Not as much as it does in every other round, but the odds are still decidedly with the winner: The team that has won Game 1 of the NBA Finals has gone on to win the series 72 percent of the time (42 of 58).
The Game 1 winner has won each of the last three NBA Finals series, five of the last six and 11 of the last 13.