Pistons motoring past Spurs
Chauncey Billups and the Pistons found the front of the rim all night long.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- I'm confused. Wasn't San Antonio supposed to be the running team in this series?
Weren't they the ones who happily kept up with Phoenix in the track meet that was the Western Conference finals?
Weren't the Pistons the turtle to San Antonio's hare?
Thus far in the NBA Finals, it's been the complete opposite.
Those slow-paced, methodical Pistons are crushing the Spurs in transition, holding a 60-30 edge in fast-break points. The advantage has been especially one-sided since the series moved north, with the Pistons hammering San Antonio 42-14 at the Palace.
The fast-break differential is shocking because of Detroit's snail-like tendencies during the season.
The Pistons narrowly missed being the NBA's most methodical team this year, averaging only 89.5 possessions per game. Only Indiana was slower, and only by a 10th of a possession.
Of course, one reason Detroit can run so much is because San Antonio's turnovers are allowing that to happen. The Pistons had 23 points off turnovers in Game 3 and another 25 in Game 4. Overall, Detroit has a 76-52 edge in points off turnovers (POT).
Furthermore, most of Detroit's transition points Thursday -- 16 of 22 -- came directly following a steal. This at least helps explain how Detroit could run it down San Antonio's throat when others have failed. Historically, it has been extremely difficult to run against the Spurs. Just ask Phoenix, or the 2003 Nets.
There are two reasons the Spurs usually can cut off the break. First, they generally send only two players to the offensive boards while everyone else runs back. Second, they're good at protecting the ball.
San Antonio turned it over on 14.3 percent of possessions this season, while the league average was 14.8. Moreover, Detroit seemed an odd team to buck the trend. Despite their fearsome defense, the Pistons forced miscues only 14.5 percent of the time.
As this 'Sheed slam shows, the Pistons appeared to be playing downhill on eight-foot baskets.
To see what a huge factor POT has been thus far, just look back at Games 1 and 2.
San Antonio actually had a slight points-off-turnovers advantage in those two games, 14-13 and 19-15, respectively. It's no accident that the Spurs won both contests easily. That trend held up in the club's two regular-season meetings as well, with San Antonio holding edges of 44-25 in POT and 30-25 in fast-break points.
Of course, it's hard for San Antonio to get any transition points if Detroit never turns the ball over. The Pistons set an NBA Finals record Thursday with only four turnovers, and just one of those came on a San Antonio steal.
However, the Pistons are unlikely to play so spectacularly well on Sunday (or any other day, for that matter -- good heavens, they were on fire), so the Spurs ought to have more chances to run.
The logic of running more should be enticing to both teams. In a series pitting two defenses of such ferocity, beating them down the floor is the only way to get easy baskets. Thus, in the odd event that there's a close game in this series, those transition baskets are likely to be the determining factor.
So Gregg Popovich has a challenge. Somehow, the Spurs will need to stem the tide of Pistons run-outs and reclaim their mantle as the more transition-oriented team. If they don't, you might say their season has gone to POT.
Game 4 can be summed up in two words: DE-TROIT BAS-KET-BALL, as brought to you by Rip, Chauncey, Ben and friends.
Now what, Tim and Pop?
Among the unexpected things Hunter did in Game 4 was dunk.
Not that they needed the help, but the Pistons benefited from one of the great fluke games in NBA Finals history Thursday.
Lindsey Hunter entered the game as the worst percentage shooter in NBA playoff history, hitting just 28.1 percent from the floor, but in Game 4 he looked like Isiah Thomas.
Hunter lit up the Spurs for 17 points in 22 minutes, handed out five assists and didn't commit a turnover. He shot 7-for-10 on the night despite several high-difficulty attempts, including a fadeaway from deep in the left corner as the shot clock expired.
How remarkable was Hunter's night? Consider:
Of course, Hunter's excellence was par for the course for the Pistons on Thursday. Heck, even Darko scored.
"This is probably the best game a team I've been involved with in such an important game has played," said Pistons coach Larry Brown, which is quite a statement considering he's been coaching since the Pilgrims landed.
The Spurs can only hope the law of averages will catch up to Hunter on Sunday and he'll revert to his bricklaying ways.
After all, they have enough problems to deal with already.
John Hollinger, from The Palace of Auburn Hills
Play of the Day
Quote of the Night: We Got Your Back
Chris Ramsay, in Auburn Hills
Seven Pistons players scored in double figures in Detroit's 102-71 win Thursday over San Antonio.
It was the first time that seven teammates reached double figures in a NBA Finals regulation game since Game 3 of the 1990 Finals, when the Pistons beat the Trail Blazers, 121-106.
The Pistons to score at least 10 points in that game: Joe Dumars (33), Isiah Thomas (21), Vinnie Johnson (21), Mark Aguirre (11), James Edwards (11), Bill Laimbeer (11) and John Salley (10).
Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Tim Duncan's performance tonight was the quietest 16-point, 16 rebound game I've ever seen. He played as if he accepted the way he was being played tonight and that's unacceptable. He accepted being fronted, being played aggressively and double teamed by the Pistons' frontline.
Instead of just being dominated he should have taken an offensive foul to get better position, because that's what great players do. When the Spurs sit down and look at the film of this game, he has to be ashamed for not being more aggressive. He has to look at himself and say, I'm a superstar and can't allow myself to get shut down.
Duncan has been called the greatest power forward of all time by some, but I can't see Charles Barkley or Karl Malone accepting taking such physical punishment without dishing some out themselves. Duncan has to stop being so passive and get in the mix with the Pistons and stop getting pushed around and bullied.
Tim Legler, in Auburn Hills
Antonio McDyess is in a heckuva comfort zone right now. It's amazing to see the revitalization of McDyess in this series.
The past two games he's absolutely torched the Spurs as they've quickly found out that they don't have anyone who can handle him defensively. He's getting both the turnaround jumper and the pick and pop.
Also, McDyess isn't a defensive liability. In fact, he fits in well in the Pistons' defensive scheme because he's long, athletic and extremely active on the defensive front. He's been a great addition to this team all season long, but in this series he's definitely enabled the Pistons to take back the momentum in Motown.
While he won't be a serious candidate for MVP honors due to the resurgence of Ben Wallace, McDyess has proven he's a main reason why the Pistons are in an excellent position to take all three middle games. Don't be surprised if he continues his assault on the Spurs through the rest of the series.
Tim Legler, in Auburn Hills
The Spurs' inability to deal with the Pistons' pressure has been a problem the past two games.
The Spurs haven't been able to initiate their offense because of the Pistons' ability to disrupt them. That has forced the Spurs guards to have to try to play a one-on-one game, which they are unaccustomed to playing.
They must do a better job of dealing with the pressure, and that falls to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They have a great low post player in Tim Duncan who they must feed to be successful, and right now they aren't doing that.
The difference between the first two games and the past two games has been the fact that the Pistons have handled pressure better. They haven't turned the ball over as much and are getting a shot almost every possession. Even when they don't score, the lack of turnovers keep the Spurs from getting out in transition.
Greg Anthony, in Auburn Hills
Skill, teamwork, strategy, coaching and execution mean nothing, apparently.
Watch any of the press conferences on ESPNEWS, and you'll see that this year's NBA Finals are being decided by energy and effort.
If a team wins it's because they had better energy. Or they were energized by the home crowd. Or their energy-guy gave them an advantage energy-wise.
After Game 1, Pistons coach Larry Brown blamed his team's loss on an energy shortage: "I didn't think we, other than the first seven, eight minutes, matched their energy."
Then when Detroit won Game 3, Chauncey Billups said energy was on their side: "So it was just, you know, some energy plays. It got some energy in the building and when we get energy in our building, we respond very well most of the time."
An unscientific search of the partial transcripts from the NBA Finals news conferences shows the word "energy" was used 62 times in press conferences over the first week of the series.
It's not as important as energy, but effort is another key to winning. The Daily Dime found "effort" used 21 times over six days of news conferences.
For instance, Ben Wallace liked his team's effort in Game 3: "It was a great effort by everybody. That's the type of effort we need to have night in and night out in order to give ourselves a chance to win games."
If you have the energy and want to make the effort, check out the NBA Finals news conference transcripts at ASAPSports.com.
Chris Ramsay, in Auburn Hills