Spurs 81, Pistons 74
-- His toughness, heart and place among the all-time greats was questioned as the Detroit Pistons pushed, shoved and humbled him for six games. But in the most pressure-packed contest of his career, San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan dusted off his detractors, dusted off the Pistons and dusted off his third NBA Finals MVP trophy after leading his team to an 81-74 win in Game 7 Thursday night.
Duncan added to his legacy with a dominant third-quarter performance and Spurs guard Manu Ginobili slammed the door with his herky-jerky antics as the Spurs wrestled back the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy from the Pistons with a 4-3 series win.
"He put his team on his shoulders and carried them to a championship," Pistons forward Ben Wallace said of Duncan. "That's what great players do."
As the final horn sounded, Duncan finally let a smile crack his perpetually stoic face and lifted his long arms toward the sky after scoring a game-high 25 points with 11 rebounds. Ginobili tracked him down and wrapped his arms around Duncan, who led the Spurs to their second title in three years -- against a defending champion Pistons team that didn't know how to give up in the first Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 11 seasons.
"I don't know how the hell we did it," said Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, who became only the fifth coach in NBA history to win at least three NBA championships. To do it, Popovich needed to beat his mentor and friend, Larry Brown, who may have coached his last game with the Pistons.
"Nobody cares. Talk about Iraq or something that matters," Popovich said, trying to play down his accomplishment. "I probably did some good things. I probably made some mistakes. When you talk about those championships and the credit, that involves a lot of people."
The Spurs won win their third title in seven years and the first without David Robinson saddled to Duncan's hip. Duncan found a new sidekick for this championship ride in Ginobili. Ginobili, who led Argentina to a gold medal in last summer's Olympics, was a rookie reserve when the Spurs beat the Nets two years ago. But the imaginative southpaw played his best game after slumping through the previous four, scoring 23 points with five rebounds.
Ginobili had 11 in the fourth quarter. "Manu is unbelievable," Duncan said. "I don't think we've scratched the surface with him. He just plays with reckless abandon, he doesn't care the time or the situation. He's going to continue to grow and we're going to continue to grow around him."
The matchup between the past two NBA champions was a bore through the first four games, but the Spurs and Pistons kept it tight in the final three contests. This game was tied at 59 with 10 minutes 20 seconds left, but the Spurs pulled away in the next eight minutes with a 13-6 run that was highlighted by three-pointers from Robert Horry, Bruce Bowen and Ginobili. Duncan drew a double-team and kicked the ball out to Ginobili for a three-pointer that gave the Spurs a 72-65 lead with 2:46 left. With the sellout crowd on its feet, Ginobili pumped his fists. Duncan chased him down and patted him on the head.
Horry, who was a member of the Houston Rockets team that beat the New York Knicks in seven games in 1994, became the 12th player in NBA history to win six NBA championships; the second to win them with three teams. Horry scored 15 points off the bench and played inspired defense, stepping in front of Pistons guard Richard Hamilton to take a charge with 1:31 remaining.
The Pistons didn't get much from their back court as Chauncey Billups, the Finals MVP from last season, and Hamilton combined to score just 28 points on 9-of-26 shooting. Hamilton scored a team-high 15 points for the Pistons but missed 12 of 18 from the floor. The Spurs put defensive specialist Bruce Bowen on Billups to disrupt the Pistons' offensive flow, and the move worked as Billups was limited to just 13 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
And, with the Spurs holding a five-point lead in the final minute, Bowen elevated to block Billups's attempt from about 22 feet. Ginobili then raced down the floor for a driving layup that proved to be the difference.
The Pistons don't know if this is the last game for Coach Larry Brown, who will have his bladder examined following the season. During the Pistons' gutsy win in Game 6, Brown told his team, "I love you guys." But the victory merely postponed the Spurs' parade. The resilient Pistons finally found a hole from which they couldn't get out. They failed in their attempt to become the first team to win the last two games on the road to win an NBA Finals series and two road Game 7s in the same postseason. Ben Wallace had 12 points, all in the first half, and Rasheed Wallace scored 11, playing just 28 minutes because of foul trouble.
"After it was over, you know, I'm just as proud of my team as I was June 16th last year," Brown said. "I'm proud of their team and Pop and Timmy Duncan, and you know, the NBA. Because we talked about us playing the right way last year and everybody was excited. There's a perfect example over there of playing the right way."
The Pistons scored the first 10 points of the third period and took a 48-39 lead with 7:40 left when reserve forward Antonio McDyess nailed a jumper from the top of the key in the period. But Duncan finally established his presence on the offensive end, lowered his hips and shoulders and attacked the basket with a level of aggression that hadn't been witnessed for much of the series. After missing seven of his first eight attempts to start the period, Duncan scored on the Spurs' next three possessions and tied the game at 53 when hit a 10-foot bank shot off the glass.
With Duncan establishing himself inside, Ginobili finally found an open lane, as he attacked the basket for a dunk. Duncan hit another bank shot to give the Spurs a 57-55 lead with 53 seconds left in the period -- the Spurs' first lead of the half. They could've extended the lead, but Tony Parker shot an air ball that allowed Lindsey Hunter to tie the game at 57 going into the final period. Duncan scored 12 of the Spurs' 19 points in the period and added six rebounds -- one fewer than the Pistons.
"I felt like the game was going bad for me, yeah. But it was about just kind of pushing through it and just the perseverance," Duncan said. "We just stuck with it. We just kept on fighting."