Nothing from the first two games of the NBA Finals should give the San Antonio Spurs any doubts about continued success against the defending champion Detroit Pistons.
When guard Manu Ginobili thought he wouldn't be able to slither through the Pistons' defense with acrobatic, incomprehensible shots as he did in Game 1, he turned into a playmaker in Game 2, setting up his teammates with precision passes -- and he still put points on the board.
When it appeared that forward Bruce Bowen was too tired to score after becoming a blindfold on Pistons guard Richard Hamilton's face mask in Game 1, he turned into a three-point specialist in Game 2 -- and still shut down Hamilton.
Moreover, Tim Duncan has dominated on both ends of the floor in both games -- and somehow remained in the background.
The Spurs have won the first two games of the best-of-seven series by an average of 18 points and are the first team in 54 years to win Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals by at least 15 points. Asked if this series has been easier than expected, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said: "No, not at all. . . . I don't think anything is easy. Everybody is out there working very hard."
The Spurs realize they have yet to face a more hostile playoff environment than the Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Pistons, and their fans, are expected to be nasty during Game 3 Tuesday night.
"If we were in their situation right now, we would be very upset and not want to make any more mistakes," said Ginobili, who has averaged 26.5 points in the first two games of this series. "We bet that Game 3 is going to be so tough with their crowd on their side, they are going to be very pumped up for them and they are going to play even tougher defensively."
Duncan didn't want to think about or talk about his last trip to Auburn Hills on March 20, when he landed on Rasheed Wallace's foot, twisted his ankle and crumpled to the floor less than two minutes into the game. Duncan left on crutches to board a private plane belonging to Pistons owner Bill Davidson and was miles above his teammates by the time the Spurs eventually lost to the Pistons, 110-101.
The injury was the most severe of three right ankle sprains Duncan suffered during the regular season, forcing him to miss 12 games.
The Pistons have won the past two meetings against the Spurs in Auburn Hills, and they are 7-2 at home this postseason.
Although only two teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a Finals series, the Pistons have proven their resiliency this postseason, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to beat Indiana in the Eastern Conference semifinals and a 3-2 deficit to beat Miami in the conference finals. "We still feel good. We're not down," Wallace said.
Last season, the Pistons became the first team in NBA history to win the middle three games in a 2-3-2 format. To do so against the Spurs, the Pistons must pick up their intensity on defense and find a way to score. The Spurs have held 13 consecutive Finals opponents under 90 points, and Pistons Coach Larry Brown recently lamented, "We have trouble scoring 90 every night it seems like."
The Spurs have displayed impressive versatility in the playoffs: They ran with the Phoenix Suns, slugged it out with the Seattle SuperSonics and dodged with the Denver Nuggets. The Pistons have just one speed (slow) and one style (predicated on suffocating defense, hustle and ball movement), but the Spurs played that speed and style better in Game 1 during an 84-69 win. The chameleon Spurs challenged Detroit to a shootout in Game 2, but the Pistons didn't have ammunition and lost, 97-76.
"We've been at both ends of the spectrum, so I just have to say that the guys are pretty flexible, pretty balanced," Popovich said. "We can score points and we're trying to run, and I think everybody's always got us figured as a half-court team for some reason. I've never really understood that, but I guess we all need a label. It makes things neater."
Popovich added, "We could very easily go to Detroit, not make shots and they start knocking them down and the whole thing changes very quickly."