-- Obviously, the Detroit Pistons kidnapped their evil imposters, locked them in a closet and left them behind in San Antonio. After two inconsistent performances in Texas, the real Detroit Pistons emerged in Game 3 Tuesday, looking like the driven, physical team that claimed the championship last season. Almost every loose ball was smothered, every Spurs shot was covered and every drive to the lane was met with an elbow or a shove.
The Palace of Auburn Hills brought out the best in the current edition of the Bad Boy Pistons -- with center Ben Wallace ferociously snatching rebounds, blocking shots and dunking; guard Richard Hamilton relentlessly running and cutting to hit jumpers; and point guard Chauncey Billups calmly playing set-up man and finisher -- as they drew within 2-1 in this best-of-seven series, with the next two games in Detroit.
It also brought out the worst in the Spurs -- with forward Tim Duncan looking unusually passive and lethargic, guard Manu Ginobili hobbling with a bum left thigh and tossing passes to the wrong team, and point guard Tony Parker providing offense but little else -- as their air of superiority came down a notch.
After the Spurs were humbled in a 96-79 loss on Tuesday, the question was no longer whether they can sweep the Pistons, but if they are good enough to avoid losing the next two games here.
The Pistons have won four consecutive Finals games at home. "Detroit has this reputation, man. I don't know how it got there, but Detroit has this reputation for just having a lot of crazy people. But I love it, man. It gives us a lot of energy," Pistons reserve Darvin Ham said. "They gave us a whole lot of energy'' in Game 3.
Parker said the environment in Game 3 wasn't any different than any they have faced so far in the postseason. "We've played some tough games. Denver was real loud. Seattle, same thing," Parker said. "I think when you're in the playoffs, and it's big games, I think the crowd always responds."
But is there something about the Palace, where the fans are known to get rowdy and the Pistons are known to be resolute? Since the NBA adopted the 2-3-2 Finals setup in 1985, the Pistons are the only team to win the middle three games at home, which they did last season against the Los Angeles Lakers. Similar to the Spurs, the Lakers arrived in town with all of the supposed momentum, following Kobe Bryant's heroic performance in Game 2. But while some were preparing the coronation for the Lakers, the Pistons provided the surprising smack-down, winning the next three games by an average of 10.3 points.
Of course, the Spurs have a more stable team than last season's Lakers, who featured the bickering Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, but they realize the danger in letting another game slip in Detroit and allowing the defending champion Pistons to regain any more confidence. "It's a whole new series being 2-2, as opposed to being 3-1," Duncan said. "We want to really jump on these guys. We just want to take care of the things they weren't taking care of in this last game and we want to execute better and we want to match their aggressiveness and match their energy and play from there."
Duncan placed the onus on himself, after playing the least productive Finals game of his career, with just 14 points and 10 rebounds. "I don't want to have back-to-back bad games," he said. "I thought I was a little lackadaisical with the ball, I got it knocked away a couple of times, telegraphed a lot of my moves, and just made bad moves."
The Spurs didn't seem too concerned about Ginobili, who scored just seven points with six turnovers after his left thigh collided with the knee of Detroit's Tayshaun Prince. Ginobili said he expects to bounce back. "I'm okay. I'm going to be fine. It's not going to limit me," said Ginobili, adding that he initially injured his leg in the Western Conference finals against Phoenix. "I think we're going to be fine. We've been through a lot of difficulties for the whole year. We just played a bad game. They played a good one."
And the Pistons kept their one win in perspective. "Well, we're still down 2-1, so we're not sitting up here jumping for joy," Rasheed Wallace said.
"I thought we played with a lot of energy yesterday, but I don't think that we really clicked the way that we can. I thought our effort was just there," Billups said. "I thought we just played as hard as we need to play, and if we can continue that, then maybe we can start, you know, doing some other things better and executing better."