Spurs 97, Pistons 76
Detroit Pistons guard Chauncey Billups took out his frustrations on the basketball near the end of the first half, ramming the ball to the floor after a shot-clock violation, tossing the ball skyward after his team committed yet another turnover. Pistons guard Richard Hamilton expressed his annoyance with an official to start the second half, screaming for a foul on consecutive possessions until he picked up a technical foul and had to be restrained by teammate and technical foul maestro Rasheed Wallace, before Hamilton said: "I'm okay. I'm okay."
The defending champion Pistons griped and grimaced all night, taking out their frustrations on everyone and everything except their primary nuisance -- the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are halfway to winning their third title in seven seasons after they defeated the Pistons, 97-76, Sunday night in Game 2 of the NBA Finals at SBC Center.
After Spurs guard Manu Ginobili saved the first game with his improvisation and flashy finishes, Wallace said "ain't nothing too special about the kid," but Ginobili had a game-high 27 points and seven assists, helping the Spurs take advantage of a group of unfocused Pistons.
"There are some things out there that we're allowing to get us down and you can't do that. You've got to keep playing. You've got to get through that," Coach Larry Brown said.
The Pistons were only able to block out the distractions for a brief stretch, chopping a 23-point second-half deficit down to just eight points with 7 minutes 12 seconds remaining. But in keeping with the theme, the combustible Pistons would continue to self-destruct.
After a timeout, Ginobili drove inside and Wallace clobbered him, picking up his fifth foul. Then, Wallace dropped to the floor, protesting the call while flat on his back, arms and legs spread wide. When Wallace finally got up, he yelled at an official, then had some choice words for a few fans behind the Pistons bench.
Ginobili drained both free throws, which triggered a 13-0 run. Ginobili put the game away when he stole the ball from Ben Wallace, dribbled up the court and found Bruce Bowen in the right corner for a back-breaking three-pointer.
"We knew we had another run in us, it was just a matter of us fighting through it," said Bowen, who hit four of the Spurs' 11 three-pointers and finished with 15 points after going scoreless in Game 1.
The Pistons' meltdown, however, wouldn't be complete until Brown and Billups drew technical fouls, again sending Ginobili to the line, where the sellout crowd began chanting "MVP! MVP!"
"Of course you appreciate it, it's beautiful," Ginobili said of the refrain usually reserved for two-time MVP Tim Duncan, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds. "But it's something that can take you out of the main goal. Once we win the championship, in those 10 minutes you are going to think about it, but it's not something I'm really thinking about."
The Pistons have been a cocksure bunch since their dismantling of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals last June. Rasheed Wallace arrived in town with a gold-plated championship belt before the festivities began. But in the first half, one fan at SBC Center held up a homemade belt with the Spurs' logo that read, "The Real Champs." With two more wins, the Spurs can take back the Larry O'Brien trophy -- and unless the Pistons can find a way to regroup, that may not take long.
Of the 26 teams that have fallen behind 2-0 in the Finals, only two have come back to win the series -- the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and the 1969 Boston Celtics. The Pistons have not won in San Antonio since April 2, 1997, a string of nine losses, but they have won the past two meetings in Auburn Hills, Mich., where Game 3 will be played on Tuesday.
After losing the past two games by an average of 18 points, Brown wasn't convinced that a change of venue will have an effect on the series. "I hope so," he said. "But right now, the way we are playing, and with the way they are executing, the contribution they are getting from a lot of people, you know, they have just dominated two ballgames."
The Pistons were discombobulated on both ends of the floor, but especially on defense, as they allowed to Spurs to get about any shot they wanted in the first half. The penetration of the speedy Tony Parker is a concern for most teams, but Brown couldn't help but frown from the sideline as Bowen and Robert Horry drove inside, untouched, for baskets. The Spurs shot 59 percent in the first half, with Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Horry going a combined 16 of 22 for 45 points.
Rasheed Wallace (11 points), Ben Wallace (nine points) and reserve forward Antonio McDyess (15 points) combined for 35 points -- an improvement from the 13 they combined to score in Game 1, but the Pistons couldn't get anything out of their back court. Hamilton continued to be covered by his new shadow, Bowen, and scored just 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting in the first half. Billups, who scored 25 points in Game 1, had just 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting and didn't score until just under four minutes left in the first half. He also had four of the Pistons' eight first-half turnovers, which led to 10 points for the Spurs.
The Spurs didn't want to lose home-court advantage as they did two years ago, when the New Jersey Nets stole Game 2 in that series. They came out with a sense of desperation, scoring the first eight points and taking a 14-6 lead without the benefit of a Duncan shot attempt, point or rebound. Ginobili opened the game with a three-pointer, Parker (12 points) streaked down the lane for a running jumper, then Bowen nailed a three pointer.
The Spurs maintained their unrelenting attack and disrupted the Pistons' offense, causing the Pistons to make bad passes or force shots. Ginobili put the Pistons on their heels as the half wore on -- not with his scoring, but his passing. He spotted Parker sliding into the lane and zipped a bounce pass past Tayshaun Prince, Billups and Ben Wallace. Parker caught the pass, put on the brakes and sank an uncontested shot from under the rim. Then, Ginobili drove inside, attracted the defense and passed the ball out to an open Horry for three-pointer.
Ginobili later gave the Spurs an 18-point lead when he did a crossover dribble to create space from Prince and made a 19-foot jumper. The Spurs led 51-33 with 3:36 left in the second period when Horry had a driving layup. The Pistons responded with a 7-0 run, but couldn't get any closer as they continued to unravel. After the Spurs forced the Pistons into a shot clock violation, Billups fired the ball toward the floor. Then, when Horry dove to get his third steal in the period and called time out, Billups grabbed the ball and made an underhand toss. Ginobili sank two free throws to give the Spurs a 58-42 lead at the break.