- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

SAN ANTONIO — Moments after the San Antonio Spurs won their second world championship in three seasons and third since 1999, power forward Tim Duncan offered a remark that should scare any team hoping to usurp their title next season.

“We can play a lot better, and that’s something horrible to say up here right now as we’re sitting as NBA champs,” said Duncan, moments after leading the Spurs to an 81-74 Game 7 victory over defending champ Detroit.

On Thursday night, after scoring 25 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking two shots, Duncan became the fourth player in league history — joining Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal — to be named finals MVP. He’s just 29 years old, and the Spurs next season will return the key members of their young nucleus — including Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Duncan — all under 30 and still signed to long-term deals.

“In years past we’ve lost six, seven, eight, nine guys and rebuilt,” said Duncan, who averaged 20.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots against the Pistons. “I think we’ve really got a core here that we’re in love with. It’s obviously a pretty decent core, and we’re going to have it together for a couple of years.”

The Spurs were virtually unbeatable this season at home, where they went 38-3 at SBC during the regular season and 9-3 in the postseason.

Questions about their toughness, from Duncan on down, arose after the Pistons won Game 6 at SBC Center and threatened to make the Spurs the first team since the league went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985 to lose Games 6 and 7 at home.

But Duncan, who went a stretch of more than 14 minutes between late in the second quarter and early in the third without a field goal, scored 10 points in the final six minutes of the third to help the Pistons take control of the game.

“He put his team on his shoulders and carried them to a championship,” the Pistons’ Ben Wallace said. “That’s what the great players do.”

Duncan struggled in the two games leading up to Game 7, and the Pistons played better basketball than the Spurs from Games 3 through 6. In fact, they would have repeated as champions had Robert Horry not hit a 3-pointer in the final six seconds of overtime in Game 5.

But when it mattered most, in the crucible of Game 7, Duncan took control of the game. That allowed players like Ginobili (23 points, five rebounds and four assists) to return to their comfort zones in Game 7.

If the Spurs could return to the finals in 2006, the same also can be said about the Pistons, who also have their top seven players locked into contracts. The biggest question surrounding the team is whether Larry Brown, widely regarded as the best coach in the league, will return next season.

Brown has been battling both bladder and back problems and has maintained his health will determine whether he will return. Brown has talked with the Cleveland Cavaliers about possibly assuming the top front-office position with that franchise next season.

“Come on, let’s talk about the game,” Brown said when questioned about his future on Thursday. “I’ll be back coaching. That’s been my plan, if [president of basketball operations Joe Dumars] wants me, if I’m able to do it. But they just won a championship. I think it’s about their players and their team.

Brown’s players, fiercely loyal to their coach — who told them in the fourth quarter of Game 6 that he “loved” them — also sidestepped the issue, choosing instead to talk about coming back next season and making another run at the championship that they almost brought back to Detroit for the second consecutive year.

“That’s not something that we want to think about right now,” said Ben Wallace, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds in Game 7. “We’ll just take care of our bodies and see everybody come back ready to play next year

“Everybody is a little bit disappointed, but everybody will bounce back,” he added. “I don’t think anybody will let this hold them down. We’ll bounce back and come back.”

Unfortunately for the rest of the league, so will the Spurs.


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