- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

DETROIT — When Ben Wallace is introduced at the Palace of Auburn Hills, “Big Ben” bumps chests with his teammates while the PA system reproduces the tolling of the real Big Ben in London.

However, in the first two games of the NBA Finals — and throughout the Eastern Conference finals — Wallace played more like a tiny alarm clock.

Wallace finally got untracked Tuesday night when he paced the desperate defending-champion Detroit Pistons with 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in a 96-79 victory over San Antonio. The Spurs still lead the series 2-1 heading into tonight’s Game 4 at the Palace.

The three-time and reigning NBA defensive player of the year credited his wife with helping him break out of his slump.

“The biggest thing for me was coming home, sitting at the dinner table and having my wife rate my game from one to 10,” Wallace said. “She told me to let my hair down and go out there and play some basketball. Or else you can’t eat.”

Entering Game 3, Wallace appeared burned-out. Five games had passed since he grabbed 15 rebounds against Miami in the East finals. And eight games had passed since he scored double figures in Game 1 of that series.

Wallace’s performances had everyone from Pistons coach Larry Brown to the Detroit media questioning what had happened to the player who last year had fans waving signs that read, “Fear the ‘Fro,” a reference to Wallace’s full head of hair.

After his wife’s pep talk, Wallace immediately put his imprint on Game 3. He scored the first basket — a dunk — on a breakaway.

And he made an even greater impression at the defensive end by blocking five shots in the first quarter.

“Ben set the tone for us and helped us in a situation where we absolutely had to get a win,” the Pistons’ Chauncey Billups said. “He won the game for us.”

Billups’ face took on a quizzical look when he was asked where Wallace had been for the Pistons in recent weeks.

“You’ve got to understand, this guy has come off playing seven games battling against Shaq,” Billups said. “Now that we’re back home, with these fans and the energy level going up, Ben can help set the tone for us. That’s the Ben Wallace we all know and love.”

That said, the Pistons are still not out of trouble, not by a long shot. However, the Spurs’ position has grown shakier, mostly because they don’t know how Manu Ginobili’s left thigh will react in Game4 tonight. Ginobili torched the Pistons in Games 1 and 2 for 26 and 27 points, respectively. After banging his leg into an opponent’s knee early in Game 3, he wasn’t the same, finishing with just seven points in 29 minutes.

“It just hurts me,” Ginobili said. “But I’m going to be fine, doing treatments. It’s not going to limit me for [tonight].”

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