Picks: Pistons-Spurs, Best-of-3
Finals prediction: Detroit
I'm picking the Detroit Pistons to win this series in six games.
It's been a remarkable comeback for this team as they've come from what seemed to be the brink of elimination. When this team was down 0-2 less than a week ago, they didn't seem to have a chance to win a game, much less the series. But this team has rebounded like true champions and have tied up the series and completely taken back the momentum.
The reasons for their resurgence and what I believe will be a four-game winning streak are their athleticism and the matchup of Ben Wallace versus Nazr Mohammed.
This team has proven to be much more athletic than the Spurs in the past two games. They are active in the passing lanes and ripping down rebounds, and the Spurs don't have an answer for them.
But the biggest factor is that Wallace is completely dominating Mohammed. He's come out to play these past two games and has injected this team with a level of energy and toughness that will leave the Pistons celebrating in San Antonio with their second consecutive NBA championship.
Finals prediction: San Antonio
I said Detroit in seven before the series began. I expected them to win one of the first two games in San Antonio, win two of three in Detroit and then split the final two games in Texas. But I now believe it's the Spurs' series to win or lose -- meaning, if both teams play their best, the Spurs win.
You want a bold prediction? Only an idiot would try. The algebraic formula to account for all the variables in this series now would require the entire alphabet. And how can you gauge what two teams will do when they've consistently failed for long stretches to do what they do best?
The question is, have the Pistons irreparably punctured the Spurs confidence? Or did I give the Spurs more credit for having developed mental toughness than they deserved?
In any case, as of today, they still have a chance to win a game on Detroit's floor, and then they have two games at home. Even if form holds and the Pistons win Game 5, the Spurs get to decide the series at home, where their role players are infinitely more effective than Detroit's.
So I'll stick with San Antonio, rather than flip-flop, but handicapping this series, at this point, is guesswork -- someone is going to end up with the correct prediction, but that's only because someone has to be correct.
Finals prediction: Detroit
I picked the Pistons from the get-go and I'm sticking with them.
They will win tonight, lose Game 6 in San Antonio and take Game 7 at the SBC Center.
Game 7 will be the toughest, most hard-nosed game of the series. The Spurs will have the crowd behind them, but Detroit is mentally tougher. The Wallaces will keep Duncan from going berserk and Chauncey "Big Shot" Billups will hit key bucket after key bucket against Tony Parker. Bruce Bowen will be moved onto Billups and then Rip Hamilton will go off.
The MVP will be Billups, but Ben Wallace will get strong consideration for killing the glass, bringing energy and making Duncan look mortal.
The Pistons have already proven the play best under fire and that they can take the deciding game in enemy territory (Miami). Game 7 will be their finest hour.
Finals prediction: San Antonio
Despite the Pistons' dominance in the Games 3 and 4, this series still strikes me as San Antonio's to lose.
I say that for two reasons.
First, San Antonio was the superior team over both the 82 regular-season games and the first three rounds of the playoffs. I have a hard time believing that advantage won't emerge by the end of the seven-game series.
Second, the Spurs still have home-court advantage. In a series where the home team has won every game in a blowout, that edge figures to loom large should there be a seventh game.
I picked the Spurs to win in six before the series started, and though it's looking more likely that they'll need the full seven, I'd still be surprised if they weren't hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy by Thursday night.
Detractors say Detroit turns basketball into wrestling, and now we have proof this is the game plan, as a camera caught Chauncey Billups working on his defense vs. Rip Hamilton at practice.
Just kidding, Pistons fans.
For two games, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker found relatively little trouble penetrating to the basket against the Pistons. Now, lost in the trees, they'd better blaze a new trail if they want to stay alive.
BONUS PICS OF THE DAY: GROUNDHOG DAY
In Game 3, Duncan shot 5-for-15 in a 96-79 loss, the worst shooting night of his Finals career. Two nights later, he was even worse, shooting 5-for-17 as the Pistons beat the Spurs 102-71.
Pop had a couple of things to say between Games 4 and 5.
It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall in San Antonio's film session Saturday morning.
"Let's just say it was heartfelt," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich of his feedback to the team following blowout losses in Games 3 and 4.
"Yesterday was low key," said forward Robert Horry. "Today wasn't. [Popovich] went a little Serbian, as he would say."
"Going Serbian" is the Spurs' pet term for when Popovich lets the team have it with both barrels -- including a selection of expletives in Balkan tongues.
Horry said the two off days before Game 5 were helpful because it gave the Spurs more time to study the film.
"It's easier to break it down and see what you're doing wrong," said Horry. "The film doesn't lie. You think you're doing things and you look at the film and you're not."
Avoid turnovers was a primary focus, with Beno Udrih's second-quarter miscue in Game 4 near the top of Popovich's mind.
"It's not a good idea to bring the ball up the court along the sideline when your defender is waiting across half-court and you see a very large person to your right coming at the same time," Popovich said. "One would want to cross the court with the ball or get rid of it.
"The worst thing to do is dribble across the half-court line so that two people can jump all over you. So we are doing our best to explain that to a couple of individuals."
But it wasn't all work and no play for the Spurs. Popovich led off the session with a clip from the 1979 Maine high school basketball championship -- which showed Spurs assistant Brett Brown leading his team to the state title.
John Hollinger, from The Palace of Auburn Hills
Detroit: Ben Wallace said after Game 4 he is waiting for the Pistons to play the perfect game. I beg to differ. I think I just saw that in the Pistons' romp over San Antonio.
I can't remember when I've ever seen a team play such a complete basketball game with so much meaning.
Hubie Brown was right in that Big Ben led everyone in the toughness stats -- his rebounding (13), steals (3), and blocks (3).
Detroit was absolutely magnificent and dominated every statistical category. Defensively, their pressure, physical style, and aggressiveness took the Spurs out of everything they wanted to do. Detroit was great with its rotations and closing out on the 3-point shooters.
Three different defenders all give Tim Duncan problems with their physical game, length, and leaping ability. If Duncan does make a move to get open, the perimeter defenders are collapsing down quickly to strip the ball.
Detroit must play with the emotion befitting a Game 7. In my mind, the Pistons might be able to beat San Antonio once in Texas. Asking them to do it twice might be too much to ask.
San Antonio: For the Spurs to turn the momentum around and head back home with a 3-games-to-2 lead, they must have much better execution that results in fewer turnovers. Their open-court turnovers have proved deadly.
They must go back to the style of being the aggressor to make things happen.
And Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker must play better. At least two of the three must play like All-Stars.
Brian James | Full scouting report
Thursday night did not end all that well for Pistons reserve guard Lindsey Hunter.
After leading Detroit's bench brigade with 17 points and five assists in the Game 4 smackdown of the Spurs, Hunter spent the early morning hours dealing with a flat tire on his wife's Mercedes sedan.
"I didn't get to bed until 4 in the morning," Hunter said. A fatal car accident on the the Big Beaver Rd. exit brought postgame traffic to a crawl on southbound I-75.
Hunter, driving a Hummer, escorted his wife down the shoulder of the road as she drove the Mercedes on a blown rear left tire.
Authorities wouldn't let Hunter use the closed ramp, so he finally abandoned the car on the side of the highway, called for someone to fix the tire and picked up the car later that morning.
Ric Bucher, in Detroit
The average margin of victory over the first four games of this year's NBA Finals has been 21 points.
That sets a new record for largest average margin of victory in the first four games of the Finals.
The old record was 19½ points in the 1977 Finals (Trail Blazers vs. 76ers).
Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
The point guard matchup between Chauncey Billups and Tony Parker has been important for both teams.
In the first two games Parker led his team and got his guys involved offensively. On the other hand Billups wasn't able to get his teammates involved, but did get his own shot off.
The past two games we've seen a flip-flop in their performances, as Billups has used his strengths more to get his guys more involved, while Parker has used his less.
Billups is also doing a better job of handling the pressure and not allowing Parker and the rest of the Spurs guards to keep him from executing the Pistons offense.
Conversely Tony Parker and Beno Udrih's answer to dealing with the pressure has been to create for themselves instead of using their quickness and penetration to create opportunities for their teammates.
Nothing comes easy against great pressure and the Pistons in Games 3 and 4 have done, as the Spurs did in Games 1 and 2, a great job of being a disruptive force to their opponent's offense.
Moving forward the most important players in the series will be the point guards because both teams are going to fight and defend with all they've got.
This will come down to which point guard can execute his offense against pressure. That guy will lead his team to victory.
Greg Anthony, in Detroit
If this series holds form, it's going seven ... and the Spurs will be tough to beat.
The Pistons and Spurs are among the top four teams of all time in home winning percentage in one arena in the NBA Finals.
After Game 4, we asked SportsNation who would win the NBA Finals and found that fans seem to believe the home-court advantage will sway the series back to the Spurs.
What's your new NBA Finals pick?