- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan’s knees didn’t wobble and his teeth didn’t chatter in the most pressurized situation of his career last night as he led the San Antonio Spurs to their third NBA championship since 1999 with an 81-74 victory over the Detroit Pistons at SBC Center.

Duncan, who struggled against the Pistons’ frontline, finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Manu Ginobili, who had done little after erupting in the first two games of the series, had 21 points for the Spurs.

The Spurs hadn’t won a Game 7 since 1979, when they defeated Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Only three players on the roster had even played in a Game 7, and the franchise’s last Game 7 appearance was a loss to Portland in the Western Conference semifinals in 1990.

The Pistons were facing long odds made longer by the foul trouble that haunted their key players. Since the Finals went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985, no road team had ever won Games 6 and 7.

In fact, the last time the road team won Game 7 of the Finals was in 1978, when the Washington Bullets won at Seattle 105-99.

Last night’s game marked the first time in 11 seasons that the Finals reached Game 7. The last time this happened was in 1994, when the Houston Rockets defeated the New York Knicks.

The Pistons, who don’t know whether Larry Brown will return as their coach, were led by Richard Hamilton’s 15 points.

With the Pistons up 39-38 at the start of the third, Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups collected their fourth and third fouls, respectively, before the half reached the 9:00 mark.

Surprisingly, the Pistons took their biggest lead of the game to this point when they outscored the Spurs 9-1 at the start of the quarter.

Held without a field goal until Tony Parker scored with 7:24 left in the period, the Spurs staged a 7-0 run to pull within two points and forced the Pistons to call time out with 5:55 remaining in the quarter.

Detroit scored just two more baskets the rest of the quarter.

In the meantime, Duncan — who was named NBA Finals MVP for the third time — started to come to life for the Spurs.

With Rasheed Wallace out of the game, the Pistons were forced to guard him with Antonio McDyess, and Duncan took advantage by scoring 12 of the Spurs’ 19 points as the third quarter ended with both teams tied at 59.

San Antonio staked its largest lead of the game at the start of the fourth, as Duncan triggered a 10-4 run that ended with Bruce Bowen’s 3-pointer extending the Spurs’ lead to 67-61 and forcing the Pistons to call timeout with 6:09 to play.

After Wallace scored on a short jumper, Duncan and Billups exchanged baskets. Then, with 2:57 to play, Ginobili took a pass from Duncan and drilled a 3-pointer to give the Spurs a 72-65 lead.

The Pistons closed within 75-71 on Billups’ 3-pointer. But Ginobili sank a pair of free throws with 22.1 seconds to play, and after Rasheed Wallace’s errant 3-pointer rolled out of bounds off Ben Wallace’s foot, the Spurs’ victory was sealed.

The Spurs started to take control of the game in the third quarter with Duncan leading the way.

After Ginobili, who picked up his second foul in the game’s first six minutes, gave San Antonio a 4-2 lead to start the game, Detroit responded with a 10-2 run that forced the Spurs to call time out and regroup. This they did, responding with a 10-0 run capped by Robert Horry’s 3-pointer with 2:45 left in the quarter.

With the Pistons up 18-14 after Horry hit a driving layup, McDyess closed out the quarter with pair of free throws.

The Piston retook the lead with a 7-2 run at the start of the second when Tayshaun Prince sank a 3-pointer after Hamilton sandwiched a pair of baskets around a short jumper from Duncan.

Detroit suffered a huge blow when Rasheed Wallace was nailed with his second and third fouls almost instantaneously just beyond the midway point of the second quarter.

With both offenses struggling, both got points from places that they don’t usually.

For the Pistons, Ben Wallace repeatedly got shots in close to the basket for 12 points in the first half, at one point scoring six straight points. For the Spurs, the difference was the play of their bench. Down by 39-37 at the end of the half, Horry and Brent Barry combined for 15 points.

The Spurs also saw the reappearance of their outside shooting in the first half. In Game 6, they made just eight of 28 attempts from behind the 3-point line. Last night in the first half they were a much more efficient 4-for-5.

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