- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

ADETROIT — There once was a time when the Detroit Pistons had no answer for the San Antonio Spurs. Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan were having their way with the Pistons, and it seemed very much as if the talk of coach Larry Brown packing his bags for Cleveland in the offseason was more of a concern than the defense of the championship.

But if the last two games at the Palace of Auburn Hills are any indication, that might just be wishful thinking by the Spurs, who last night took a 102-71 beating from the Pistons that tied the NBA Finals at 2-2 with Game 5 Sunday at the Palace.

“We were phenomenal tonight,” said Pistons coach Larry Brown. “We didn’t turn it over; took 90 shots to their 70. We had seven guys score in double figures, we rebounded effectively and had great distribution in terms of everybody getting touches. I don’t know if we could play any better.”

The Pistons, in the most lopsided victory yet of a series in which no game has been decided by less than 15 points, took the lead for good with 7:39 left in the first quarter when Rasheed Wallace’s put-back dunk gave Detroit an 8-7 lead. The Pistons stretched the lead to 15 points by halftime, and it went as high as 24 in the third quarter.

The Pistons placed all five starters in double figures and seven all told.

In the Pistons’ two wins here the Spurs have looked every bit as discombobulated as the Pistons did in Texas, when the Spurs beat them by 15 and 19 points. Detroit had 13 steals to the Spurs’ one.

“They got us on our heels again and you see the result,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “It’s disappointing when their physical play and their defense [in the last two games] has taken us away from everything that we normally do.”

The Pistons are denying the Spurs any easy looks at the basket and out-hustling them.

Last night they turned the Spurs’ two best players, Duncan and Ginobili, into little more than role players. Rasheed Wallace (14 points, eight rebounds) and Ben Wallace (11 points, 13 rebounds) were there to contest every shot Duncan took. As a result, he was 5-for-17 from the floor and finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds.

Ginobili, who said he was no longer bothered by the sore knee he banged up in Game 3, was held in check for the second game in a row, his 12 points barely noticeable.

Unlike the first two games in San Antonio, when the Pistons couldn’t find anybody to step up, now it seems as though everyone wants to chip in.

Last night reserve Lindsey Hunter played a huge role. Hunter hit his first five shots from the floor and finished tied with Chauncey Billups for Pistons’ scoring honors with 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting. He and Antonio McDyess (13 points, seven rebounds) helped the Pistons’ bench outscore the Spurs’ 33-13.

The Spurs fast break is in trouble as well, having produced just 14 points in the last two games.

After falling behind at the start, the Pistons outscored the Spurs 11-2 for an 11-7 lead. Detroit nudged its edge to 18-10 when Billups knocked down a 19-footer with 3:14 remaining in the quarter.

The Spurs cut it to 20-17 on reserve Beno Udrih’s short jumper with slightly more than six seconds to play. But the Pistons squeezed the most out of their final possession, getting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Rasheed Wallace.

After committing seven turnovers in the first quarter compared to just two for the Pistons, the Spurs suddenly couldn’t buy a basket. In fact, San Antonio’s first basket of the second quarter came from little-used reserve Devin Brown, who sank a 3-pointer with 8:05 left in the period.

Detroit wasted no time taking advantage of the Spurs’ offensive struggles and responded by scoring 11 unanswered points, nudging the lead up to 34-17 before Brown scored.

The Pistons, who manhandled the Spurs in Game 3, picked up right where they left off in Game3 at the defensive end, forcing San Antonio into 10 turnovers in the first half, seven of them coming in the first quarter. Conversely, the Pistons were significantly more protective of their possession, and committed just two the entire half.

San Antonio, which made just four field goals in the second quarter, got within 36-27 on four straight free throws by Duncan.

But that was as close as the Spurs got before halftime. The Pistons responded with seven straight points to restore the lead to 43-27.

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