- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — So far the NBA Finals have been Blowout City — in two cities. The San Antonio Spurs won the first two games by 15 and 21 points at home, the Detroit Pistons won the next two by 17 and 31 points here.

Few would dispute these are the NBA’s best two teams. So why have the first four contests been so lopsided heading into tonight’s Game5 at the Palace of Auburn Hills?

Larry Brown, for one, doesn’t have a clue.

“It’s hard to put a finger on it,” the Pistons’ veteran coach said. “Who knows?”

What everyone does know, however, is tonight’s game will be crucial.

“It’s a huge game — I think it’s monstrous to get the fifth game,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “To say anything different would probably be disingenuous, because in my heart I know we have to get a game on the road.”

The Pistons see Game5 as no less important.

“We still have to play that last game [here], and that’s going to be the hardest one because we know they’re going to be [psyched] because they don’t want to go back to San Antonio down 3-2,” Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace said. “I think it’s going to be the toughest one of the three games here at the Palace.”

After coasting in the first two games at home, where they were a league-best 38-3 during the regular season, the Spurs now seem at a loss for answers. They had better find some quickly, though. When the Finals have been tied 2-2 in the past, the winner of Game5 has gone on to take the series 73.9 percent of the time.

“We have stopped doing the things we did so well early in this series,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said.

A perfect example has been the play of San Antonio’s best player, power forward Tim Duncan. Duncan was last seen at the end of Thursday’s Game4 sulking on the bench, his head tucked into his chin and a grim Popovich muttering something into his ear.

Popovich would not reveal what he told his star player, but the stats provide a pretty good indication. Duncan has gone from shooting 46.9 percent and averaging 21 points at home to shooting just 31.3 percent and averaging 15 points on the road.

However, it wasn’t long ago the Pistons were exhibiting the same despair after being throttled in the first two games.

“It’s hard to explain,” Detroit center Ben Wallace said. “We have played better defensively, for one thing.”

The Pistons need another victory tonight because they have lost 10 in a row and 15 of their last 17 in San Antonio, where Game6 is scheduled for Tuesday and Game7, if necessary, for Thursday. Detroit hasn’t won there since April2, 1997.

Following the two losses in San Antonio, Brown said he returned to Detroit feeling as badly as he did after failing to coach the United States men’s team to a gold medal at Athens. That’s why he spent most of yesterday impressing upon his team it has yet to accomplish anything other than tying the series.

“This has been the wildest series,” Brown said. “We’ve played some very important games so far this season. This is the most important game we’ll ever have played … and I think we’re going to have to play our very best.”

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