Friday, June 17, 2005

Go Pistons!

Courtesy SI.COM

Balanced Pistons rout Spurs to even Finals at 2-2

Posted: Thursday June 16, 2005 10:38PM; Updated: Friday June 17, 2005 3:16AM
Tayshaun Prince scored 13 points and collected two of the Pistons' 13 steals.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- The blank, bewildered looks on the faces of the San Antonio Spurs said it all. They were a beaten team -- a badly beaten team -- and their collective daze extended from Tim Duncan on down the bench.

A lopsided victory came easily for the defending champion Detroit Pistons in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, almost too easily. Their 102-71 victory Thursday night over San Antonio evened the series at two games apiece and left the Spurs scratching their heads.

"They really pressured us, and they didn't let us do anything on offense. We've got to find a solution," Spurs guard Tony Parker said.

Once again, it was a double-digit victory -- the series' fourth in as many games. The difference this time was the degree of dominance shown by the Pistons, a mix of suffocating defense and varied offense that left the Spurs completely befuddled.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told his team at halftime that they had played the worst half of basketball he'd ever seen by an NBA playoff team.

Maybe he was exaggerating, maybe not.

"We were phenomenal tonight," Detroit's Larry Brown said. "I really believe in all honesty this is the best game on a team I've been involved with at this level, this is they best we've played. This was a pretty special game."

Game 5 in Detroit will be Sunday night, and one team will emerge one victory away from the title.

Game 6 will be played on the Spurs' home court Tuesday night, and Game 7, if necessary, will be next Thursday in San Antonio.

The home team has won every game in the series thus far.

"It's a three-game series now. It's going to be a lot of fun," Detroit guard Chauncey Billups said.

Detroit took control with a 14-0 run bridging the first and second quarters, and it was never close the rest of the way. When the Spurs tried to force the ball inside, a swarm of defenders and a collection of long arms was there to swat at them, bother them and break them.

The Spurs' 71 points tied for the fifth-fewest in finals history, two more than the Pistons managed in Game 1.

Duncan had the best stat line of the night with 16 points and 16 rebounds, but if there was ever a misleading set of numbers, that was it. The two-time finals MVP shot 5-for-17 and was never able to get into any kind of an offensive rhythm against the defense of the two Wallaces, Ben and Rasheed, and no one stepped up to take on a bigger share of the offensive load.

Contrast that with the Pistons, who received big boosts off the bench from Lindsey Hunter (17 points) and Antonio McDyess (13 points) in support of Billups' 17 points, Rasheed Wallace's 14, Prince's 13 and Richard Hamilton's 10.

"We've got a lot of guys who can score. Tonight, Chauncey recognized I had it going, and like I said before the game, I still know how to put it in the hole a little bit," said Hunter, a 12-year veteran averaging just 3.3 points in the postseason. "My dad always taught me the only way you know if the next one is going in is to put it in the air. So I've always lived by that."

Detroit had a 22-10 edge in fast-break points and a 13-1 edge in steals, led by Ben Wallace's three.

"Those guys, they throw a lot of bodies at you, each with their own little style," Duncan said.

The Pistons took the first double-digit lead of the game early in the second quarter by pressuring rookie backup point guard Beno Udrih. A midcourt trap by Rasheed Wallace and Hunter resulted in a steal, and Prince scored on the ensuing fast break to make it 27-17.

A turnover by Ginobili off another trap led to a layup by Hunter for a 14-point lead, which was followed by an offensive foul on Duncan and a three-point play by Antonio McDyess that made it 34-17.

The big lead held for the rest of the first half, and the Pistons calmly walked to their locker room at intermission with a 51-36 lead after getting at least eight points from four starters -- Billups, Prince and both Wallaces, while Hamilton made up for his lack of scoring (four points) with five defensive rebounds. As a team, Detroit had 16 assists and just one turnover.

"They came out playing hard, but it seemed like we took the air out of them when we kept getting steals from them and blocking shots," McDyess said. "It seemed like everything went right for us, and I hope it continues."

The Spurs came out for the third quarter looking to take the ball to the basket, and their first two possessions ended with driving layups.

But the difficulty of trying to sustain that type of an offense against the Pistons' swarming, smothering defense was established over the past two seasons, and they immediately showed why. San Antonio's next two possessions ended with blocked shots by each of the Wallaces, and Duncan then was left open at the top of the key but couldn't knock down a wide open look.

The Pistons had four blocks and two steals in the first 6 minutes of the third quarter, and then they started getting some offense from an unusual source -- Hunter. He hit a pair of jumpers from the corner and another jumper from the lane, and McDyess added back-to-back baskets late in the quarter to help Detroit to a 74-57 lead entering the fourth.

The lead grew as high as 31 from there, and Duncan and Ginobili were rendered spectators for the final 5 minutes as the Pistons finished off the job.

"I don't feel frustrated at all. There would be some other words that would be a lot more accurate," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It's disappointing that their physical play and their defense has taken us away from everything that we normally do."

Notes: The win was the 99th career coaching victory for Brown in the NBA playoffs, tying him with Red Auerbach for third in league history behind Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. ... Despite having to be back in New York for a collective bargaining meeting Friday, commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik attended the game. ... Carrie Underwood of "American Idol" fame sang the national anthem and received an enthusiastic applause.



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