Spurs 84, Pistons 69
For those who believed this NBA Finals between the boring San Antonio Spurs and the bruising Detroit Pistons needed a flashy individual performance, enter Spurs guard Manu Ginobili. And for those who believed the best player on the court was too dull to capture the imagination of fans and casual observers, there was Tim Duncan.
Ginobili whirled into the lane like a tornado Thursday night and finished a flurry of exciting layups while scoring 15 fourth-quarter points and Duncan was his usual, quiet great self as the Spurs broke out of a first-half funk to defeat the defending champion Pistons, 84-69, in Game 1.
And Duncan, following one long-range jump shot in the fourth quarter, ran down the court clapping his hands. It amounted to a chest-beating, jersey-ripping celebration for the former two-time NBA Finals MVP.
It wasn't riveting entertainment for most of the night as the Spurs fought off the rust of not playing in eight days, while the Pistons tried to keep their legs from growing weary after winning a grueling seven-game series against the Miami Heat only three days before. A series that basketball purists were supposedly going to love didn't actually get exciting until Ginobili and the Spurs shook off their first-half struggles.
"Unbelievable," Duncan said of Ginobili, who led the Spurs with 26 points. "He was amazing."
The ever-steady Duncan paced the Spurs with 24 points and 17 rebounds. The win could serve as a good omen for the Spurs, who are looking to win their second title in three seasons: the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to win the championship 72 percent of the time.
Point guard Chauncey Billups had 25 points and six assists for the Pistons. Billups, however, was unable to make up for poor offensive performances from guard Richard Hamilton and forward Rasheed Wallace, who combined to score just 20 points for the Pistons, who were outscored 29-19 in the fourth quarter.
The period had a promising start when center Ben Wallace brought the Pistons within 55-53 when he knocked down a 16-foot bank shot. But Wallace lost his composure on the other end of the court, when Ginobili drove into him and sent him flying about three feet backward.
Wallace was called for a foul and was hopping mad, as he skipped and yelled at the officials. Then, he ripped the red headband from his corn-rows and thrust the sweaty mass of cotton to floor in frustration, earning a technical foul. "I thought it was a charge," Billups said. "But it could've gone either way."
Ginobili didn't bother paying any attention to Wallace's rant. Instead, he hit the free throw to give the Spurs a 56-53 lead, then set about almost single-handedly dismantling Detroit the rest of the quarter. He was 6 for 6 from the floor in the final period, driving into the lane for a finger roll that gave the Spurs a seven-point lead, then the lefty bounced off Hamilton for a difficult shot -- with his right hand, no less -- that bounded high off the rim before falling.
The Spurs built a 17-point lead with 5 minutes 24 seconds remaining, but the Pistons got within seven two minutes later when Hamilton (14 points) caught a pass from Billups and had a breakaway dunk. It was one of a few open shots for Hamilton (7-for-21 shooting), who was swarmed by Bruce Bowen all night.
"They just defended great," Pistons Coach Larry Brown said of the Spurs. "Bowen was phenomenal. He made it tough."
Ginobili put the Pistons away when he dribbled the ball behind his back, scooted around a staggering Hamilton and right into the Pistons' vaunted interior defense for a vicious dunk. Then, with the shot clock winding down, Ginobili stepped back to knock down a three-pointer to give the Spurs a 79-67 lead.
"He was marvelous," Brown said. "You know, every time you thought we were going to make a little run, he makes a huge play."
Ginobili recovered from a miserable first half -- when he was 1 of 6 with just four points and three turnovers -- to go 9 for 10 for 22 points after the break.
"Yeah, I struggled. I don't know if it I was nervous or rusty or whatever, but I didn't play well," Ginobili said of his first half. "I was very upset at halftime, and I tried to calm down, play a little slower pace, and things started getting better."
The layoff may have given the Spurs some much-needed rest, but it also appeared to come with some first-half rust. Nineteen seconds into the game, the Spurs got the ball inside to Nazr Mohammed., who knocked down a layup to give his team a 2-0 lead. The first time he got a touch in the post, Duncan turned over the ball trying to dribble and the second time, he lost the ball trying to dunk over Ben Wallace.
Ginobili's first three touches ended with a missed three-pointer and two turnovers.
Tony Parker (15 points) blamed the slow start on being "a little bit out of rhythm and a little bit of Detroit."
The Pistons had just completed the difficult task of winning a seven-game series on the road in Miami. They were clearly in a better game rhythm as they built a 17-4 lead to start the game.
But they couldn't keep up that momentum and by the third quarter they were trailing.
Tayshaun Prince had 11 points for the Pistons and Rasheed Wallace scored six -- all in the first half -- and he took just six shots.