Spurs lock down Game 7
Apparently the Spurs had read the scouting report on Billups' penchant for big-game heroics.
SAN ANTONIO -- It was fitting that the crucial play in this series was a defensive stop. With 1:02 remaining and the Spurs clinging to a 73-68 lead, Larry Brown came out of a timeout with one of his favorite plays -- Chauncey Billups coming off a screen to shoot a 3-pointer from the left side.
Only this time, Bruce Bowen raced through the screen, caught up to Billups, and got a hand up in time to block the shot. It was vintage Bowen -- chasing a smaller player through a screen, anticipating the next move, and reaching out with his left hand rather than across his body with the right to block a right-hander's shot.
"I was just trying to make sure I stayed up with him," Bowen said. "With my length, sometimes it creates problems for guys. Once he went up in the air and I saw he was committed, it was a chance for me to react."
Plays like that abounded for the Spurs in the final 20 minutes, and that's why they're going for a long, happy boat ride on the Riverwalk this weekend. San Antonio trailed the deciding game 48-39 with 7:44 left before unleashing a torrent of defensive pressure on the Pistons.
Over the next 18 minutes, the Pistons managed just 18 points, turning a nine-point lead into a seven-point deficit. It was a defensive effort that had been largely absent for the past four games, as the Pistons methodically ran whatever play they wanted and executed to near perfection.
With their title hopes slipping away, the Spurs finally decided to shake things up a little. Coach Gregg Popovich switched to a zone out of a timeout, and switched defensive ace Bowen onto Billups. Detroit was rattled by the switch, suffering a rare spate of turnovers -- the Pistons had five in that stretch, or as many as they had in all of Game 6. They also started firing blanks against the swarming Spurs, hitting 7-of-22 from the floor.
"We thought we'd go ahead and take a chance tonight," Popovich said. "They are so tough to guard, especially after timeouts, because [Larry Brown] does a great job of putting you in awkward positions. We did some zone, and it happened to work tonight."
After scuffling for six games and a half, Duncan earned the right to celebrate.
That was the San Antonio defense we'd been waiting to see. Yes, Manu Ginobili hit several huge shots, and yes Tim Duncan imposed his will on the game in the second half, but ultimately it was the Spurs' defensive mettle that made the difference.
"We didn't do anything special that we hadn't done in the first six games," said Duncan, the Finals' MVP. "We stuck to it. We believed in what we were doing and that if we did it the right way we could get it done."
The bigger mystery was why the Spurs hadn't been getting it done over the previous four games. Considering they led the NBA in Defensive Efficiency (my measure of points allowed per 100 possessions) while Detroit ranked just 15th at the offensive end, one had to think things would turn back in San Antonio's favor.
They did, just in the nick of time, and as a result the Spurs are the champs.
Ginobili's hardware collection is only growing, as he'll add a second NBA ring to his 2004 Olympic gold medal and European honors.
Watching on the big screen back in Auburn Hills, Mich., the Pistons' true believers filled the Palace ... and filed out disappointed.
Sometimes, the game is simple. This is one of those times.
The San Antonio Spurs are cuddling up to the Larry O'Brien right now for one big reason:
They hit shots tonight. More to the point, they hit long shots tonight.
Seven-for-11 from beyond the arc? While the Pistons come crashing back to earth with a 2-for-14 night?
That's the ballgame.
Cool Hand Manu's dead-eye shooting slayed the Pistons.
When the Spurs lost to the Lakers in the conference semis last year, they were shot down by Derek Fisher and his 0.4 miracle, but it was their own shooting that really got 'em. Hedo Turkoglu, Bruce Bowen, and Co. were prone to cold spells (forgive me) of Pistonesque proportions.
This year's model, with a rejuvenated Robert Horry and a confident Brent Barry getting Hedo's shots, and with Bowen (thanks to hours and hours of offseason work) shooting more than 40 percentage points better from downtown, was stocked with antifreeze.
And that's before we get to maybe the biggest difference between this year and last: More minutes, more confidence, and more cold-blooded, heat-of-the-moment shooting for Manu Ginobili, who was working it inside and out tonight.
He was a shooter hitting shots 8-for-13 from the floor, 2-for-2 from 3, and 5-for-5 from the line. The Pistons had no answer for him.
It was that simple.
Play of the Day
Quote of the Night
Chris Ramsay, in San Antonio
Tim Duncan taking over the third quarter was huge. This team was down by nine points and was playing very tight at the time, and he just started to dominate and scored 12 points in a key stretch to lead his team.
He hadn't had a stretch like that all series, but when his team needed him the most he came through. He took a couple of tough shots that he seldom would've taken in the past, but needed to be aggressive and take over, and he did.
It helped that he and the Spurs took advantage of the fact that he didn't have to deal with the foul-ridden Rasheed Wallace, who had done the best job of guarding him this series.
Tim Legler, in San Antonio
Neither the Spurs nor the Pistons led by as many as 10 points in any of the last three games of the NBA Finals.
It was only the second Finals in the last 35 years in which even two consecutive games were played without a double-digit lead.
The other was the Bulls' six-game victory over the Jazz in 1998, in which there was a lead of 10 points in only one game (Game 3).
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Manu Ginobili played great tonight. In fact, I really thought he had a great shot at winning the MVP.
The only thing that I believe stopped him from winning was the fact that Tim Duncan put this team on his back. But once again we saw Ginobili putting the dagger into the Pistons with his slashing and big outside shooting.
He had an unbelievable series and has established himself as one of the premier clutch players in the league.
He's unselfish, fearless and full of energy when driving the lane. He takes some big hits and gets up and puts his head down and drives the lane again and again.
He does the little things also like playing the passing lane, playing good help defense and getting steals.
All in all, he's just a pleasure to watch.
Tim Legler, in San Antonio
The Pistons losing their composure late in the game was a big surprise to me.
Trailing by seven with almost three minutes left, they came out of a timeout with a quick Rasheed Wallace 3-pointer, which he missed. That was an interesting decision because there was still so much time left and it wasn't necessary to get desperate.
The Pistons also made a handful of other mistakes that belied the lack of poise down the stretch. Contrary to expectations, the team that came in with the most experience was unable to keep it going when it counted.
Tim Legler, in San Antonio
Robert Horry was exceptional in this series and tonight.
In the first half he really got the Spurs going and helped keep the team in the game.
This was a phenomenal series for him as he singlehandedly won Game 5 and contributed mightily to the Spurs effort in Game 7.
He once again proved his worth by doing more than just scoring for the Spurs.
He rebounded well, showed very active hands in the passing lanes and played solid defense during the series, which helped the Spurs tremendously. In Game 7, he did a very good job playing Rasheed Wallace when he had to and kept the Pistons forwards honest.
Greg Anthony, in San Antonio