- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

SAN ANTONIO — When the Detroit Pistons left Los Angeles last season after coming within a miraculous, last-second jumper from Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant of taking a 2-0 lead in the Finals, they looked to be the better of the two teams, a fact ratified by the Pistons’ 4-1 march to the championship.

A year later against the San Antonio Spurs, the Pistons appear to be the weaker team.

The Spurs led by as many as 23 points late in the third quarter and then held off the Pistons last night to take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals with a 97-76 rout before 18,797 at SBC Center.

“I was pleased with the way they reacted to the win [in Game 1],” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said of his team. “Even teams that aren’t that good come back with a lot of energy after a loss. But it’s hard to come back with that energy after a win. But we have to keep a healthy respect for our opponent.”

After the Pistons cut the lead to 81-73 in the fourth quarter and appeared ready to make a game of it, the Spurs went on a 16-3 run to close the game.

Manu Ginboli led the Spurs with 27 points and seven assists. Tim Duncan finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Bruce Bowen added 15 points for San Antonio, which connected on 11 of 24 3-pointers.

Antonio McDyess led the Pistons with 15 points off the bench. Richard Hamilton finished with 14, and Chauncey Billups added 13 for the Pistons.

The Pistons find themselves in the difficult position of having to become just the third team to come back from a 0-2 deficit in the finals if they are going to retain their crown.

Only twice in 26 times have teams lost the first two games of the championship series to come back and win it all. Boston accomplished the feat in 1969 against the Lakers. Most recently the Portland Trail Blazers, down 0-2 to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1977, won the next four games.

The Pistons can take solace in the fact that last year against the Lakers they won three straight games at the Palace of Auburn Hills to close out the Lakers.

“Hopefully with our crowd we’ll start out from the beginning throwing the first punch,” Detroit coach Larry Brown said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be tough and our crowd will help us get some confidence back. We haven’t been nearly as aggressive as they have. I think defensively we’ve been real soft.”

Last year’s team played with much more poise and efficiency from start to finish than this team appears capable of right now.

“We have been playing very well on the road so we are very confident that we can get a win up there,” Ginobili said.

Game3 is scheduled for tomorrow.

Drubbed in Game1 84-69, one reason commonly held was that the Pistons had expended too much emotion and energy to win a Game7 in Miami in the Eastern Conference. But the Pistons looked almost as ill-prepared and uninterested last night as they did in Game1.

The Spurs scored the most first-half points (58) last night of any Pistons opponent in either of the past two postseasons.

Every time the Pistons looked as if they might make a run, the Spurs would put it down, as they seemingly were able to get the shots they wanted whenever they wanted them.

Twice during the postseason — once against Philadelphia and once against Miami — the Pistons had fallen behind by double figures in the first quarter and rallied to win.

Just as the Pistons got off to a scintillating start in Game1, such was the case this time with the Spurs, who jumped out to a 11-2 lead and never relinquished it.

During that span, the Pistons suffered a setback when starting small forward Tayshaun Prince was flagged for his second personal foul.

San Antonio led by as many as 12 points in the first quarter and was up 30-19 heading into the second thanks to 9-for-15 shooting.

The Pistons got within 36-27 on McDyess’s slam dunk with 8:44 to play in the second quarter.

Ginobili, though, capped an 11-2 Spurs’ run when he sank a 19-footer with 5:04 to play that gave the Spurs an 18-point lead, and from that point the Pistons never fully recovered.

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