Spurs, Pistons get back to basics

Defense-oriented teams likely to keep score low

Pro Basketball

June 09, 2005|By Tim Povtak | Tim Povtak,ORLANDO SENTINEL

SAN ANTONIO - There will be a lid on the basket when the NBA Finals begin tonight.

In a regular season that was marked by the most points in five years - highlighted by the high-octane, much-celebrated Phoenix Suns - the last two teams standing have a different view of the game.

They love getting dirty.

The Detroit Pistons against the San Antonio Spurs is not going to be pretty or high-flying or star-packed.

It's going to be gritty.

Instead of breakaway dunks, there will be clutching and banging and blocking.

"For anyone who likes a lot of scoring, it might seem kind of ugly," said San Antonio veteran Robert Horry. "But 82-80 - when you win - sounds wonderful to me."

For the first time in 35 years, the two best defensive teams in the NBA - the stingiest - will meet in the Finals. While NBA scoring rose to an average of 97.2 points per game this season, the Spurs allowed only 88.4 and the Pistons 89.5.

They won by making stops.

The Miami Heat against Phoenix might have been a more glamorous matchup, but neither of those teams was good enough defensively to get here.

So instead of Amare Stoudemire challenging Shaquille O'Neal around the basket, there will be Bruce Bowen trying to smother Richard Hamilton. Instead of Dwyane Wade racing Steve Nash, there will be Tayshaun Prince jostling Manu Ginobili.

"This league is building itself on the offensive end, but that's not how you win championships. It's no accident that we're here," said Pistons center Ben Wallace before practice yesterday. "There is no glitz and glamour to my game. I just play ball."

On one side, there is Wallace, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, along with Chauncey Billups and Prince, both on the NBA All-Defense second team. On the other side are Tim Duncan and Bowen, NBA All-Defense first team, the first time teammates have shared that honor since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did it in 1998.

It will be the first time since 1987 - when it was the Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics - that the two previous champions have met in the Finals.

"I think both teams predicate what they do by their defense. They are pretty demanding in that sense," coach Gregg Popovich after the Spurs practice yesterday.

"Teams know when they come play us, they better bring their hardhats and lunch buckets because they're going to work," said Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace. "It's going to be a long fight, 12 rounds."

Each team has its defensive perimeter stopper, and both have been great in the playoffs, reveling in their role. Bowen, who has averaged just 4.8 points in the playoffs, will be hanging on Hamilton, Detroit's leading scorer.

"Defense can be a beautiful thing," said Bowen. "I don't necessarily think this series will be ugly because of great defense. For basketball purists, they'll enjoy it. Like us, Detroit knows how to play the game."

Although they insist that defense will determine the outcome, the Spurs have gotten big scoring nights from Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker throughout the playoffs. All three are averaging more points in the playoffs than they did in the regular season.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

NBA Finals

San Antonio vs. Detroit

Best of seven; *-if necessary

All games on chs. 2, 7

Today: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.

Sunday: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.

Tuesday: at Detroit, 9 p.m.

Next Thursday: at Detroit, 9 p.m.

*June 19: at Detroit, 9 p.m.

*June 21: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.

*June 23: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.

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