- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005


Those are the two sweetest words in sports, and the NBA will celebrate them for the first time since 1994 tonight when the host San Antonio Spurs face the defending champion Detroit Pistons.

As the 2004-05 season comes down to a final game, the series has taken a juicy turn after beginning with four blowouts. To wit:

• Will this be the last game Larry Brown coaches, not just for the Pistons but perhaps ever? Brown’s name has been mentioned in connection with the vacant job of Cleveland Cavaliers president for weeks.

• Can the Pistons become the first team in finals history to win Games 6 and 7 on the road?

• Can the Spurs win in their first appearance in a Game 7 in the Tim Duncan era? In fact, San Antonio hasn’t won a Game 7 since beating Philadelphia in the 1979 Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Spurs’ Robert Horry, however, has played in more than his share of Game 7s; in fact, he was on the Houston Rockets team that beat the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals in 1994. He called Game 7 the kind of moment that can cause a player either to wilt or blossom.

“It depends on the mentality of the individual,” said Horry, who has five championship rings from his years with the Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. “Some guys love pressure, and they elevate their games. Some guys kind of fold up and put them away. This is going to be a true test of our manhood and of what we’ve got.”

And despite Tuesday’s loss in Game 6, what the Spurs have is the comfort of playing at SBC Center, where they went 38-3 in the regular season and are 8-3 in the postseason. The Spurs have not lost back-to-back home games all year.

However, perhaps because they were the favorites to win this series — or maybe because of the long odds that stand between the Pistons and a repeat of their Game 6 victory on the road — it stands to reason the Spurs bear more pressure in tonight’s game. San Antonio has lost three of the last four games in the series and already would have been eliminated save for Horry’s 3-pointer to win Game 5 in overtime.

“We’re defending champs, so that pressure is on us,” Detroit’s Chauncey Billups said. “But they are at home, and I think the pressure is really on them to win this Game 7 and win it all.

“They had the best record in the league other than maybe Phoenix,” Billups continued. “But the pressure is definitely on them. They have got the homecourt advantage in the series. This is Game 7, and no team has ever lost Game 6 and 7 [at home] and this and that, but there has not even been a Game 7 since ‘94 or whatever. I don’t really believe in all that kind of stuff, but I do think the pressure is on them.”

Billups, last season’s finals MVP, has been Detroit’s most consistent player through six games, averaging a team-high 21.7 points. His shrewd decision-making and fearless leadership have helped the Pistons gain advantages in all the hustle areas. Through six games, the Spurs have committed 97 turnovers compared to the Pistons’ 60, and the Pistons have come up with 55 steals, 27 more than the Spurs.

While the Pistons’ emphasis is more on the sum of their parts, the Spurs will go only as far as Duncan takes them.

Duncan began the postseason averaging 23.9 points in 82 career playoff games. However, the Pistons’ frontline — specifically the two Wallaces, Ben and Rasheed — has given him trouble, holding him to 19.8 points and just 43.1 percent shooting from the floor.

Also haunting Duncan has been his shaky performance at the line in this series, particularly in the last two games. After making just four of 11 free throws in Game 5, Duncan hit just five of 10 in finishing with 21 points in Game 6.

Duncan spoke with nervous energy yesterday.

“It seems like too long until the game is going to be here,” Duncan said. “I’ve never been in a Game 7 before, and I’m just excited about it. I think it will be nerve wracking between now and then, but once you get on the floor and get a minute or two, I’ll be excited to be in there.”

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