SAN ANTONIO - The Detroit Pistons like to wear the pro wrestling-like championship belts that teammate Rasheed Wallace made for them after they won the NBA championship last season. But the crown that has rested on their heads last year is slipping after the San Antonio Spurs took a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals with a 97-76 victory last night.
Only two teams have recovered from a 2-0 deficit in the Finals to win the NBA championship. The next three games will be played in Detroit starting tomorrow night.
And the Pistons are going to have to find a way to solve the Spurs' defense, which has continually thwarted them in the first two games.
"It's just Pop's philosophy," point guard Tony Parker said of coach Gregg Popovich. "Everything starts with defense."
And ends with Manu Ginobili, it seems.
The remarkable Argentinean shooting guard, who is living the league's Finals slogan "Where Legends are Born," responded when the Pistons dug deep into the Spurs' seemingly invincible 23-point second-half lead and cut it to 81-73 with just over seven minutes left.
After a run of several brilliant shots by Chauncey Billups, Ginobili drove and was fouled for a pair of free throws, made a steal and then hit a wide-open Bruce Bowen for another three-pointer. That gave the Spurs a 15-point lead and safely put them just two games from their third championship in seven years.
Ginobili finished with 27 points. Tim Duncan had 18 and defensive specialist Bowen added 15.
One of the side issues entering Game 2 was the late starts caused by the parade of entertainment activities before the game started, but after the players had warmed up.
"Somebody [with the NBA] got mad at me because I was in the way of a [TV] cable," Pistons coach Larry Brown joked, adding, "It takes away from our sport."
Brown, though, had to be looking for some entertainment once the game began. Because his team wasn't much worth watching.
Their frustration was perhaps best represented by Billups just before halftime when Robert Horry ripped the ball away from him. It was Horry's third steal of the second quarter and the Spurs called a timeout for one last shot with 16 seconds left and a 14-point lead.
Billups smashed the ball to the floor, one of the few things the Pistons guards hit in the first half.
"We didn't get a lot of people involved; we didn't get a lot of easy baskets," Brown said after Game 1. "Everyone talked about them being the best defensive team in the league prior to this series. I think they've showed why they are a great team."
In the first half, during which the Pistons trailed by as many as 18 and never led, Tayshaun Prince was 0-for-4 shooting, Billups was 2-for-6 and Richard Hamilton, again shadowed effectively by Bowen, was 1-for-5.
It was something of a basketball clinic, the kind Brown would hardly appreciate.
The Spurs opened the game exploiting everything the Pistons gave them.
"Moving side to side, playing the ball, going to the open man," Popovich said. "We move the ball, don't turn it over, we're OK."
They were more than that.
Although the Pistons were doubling off Bowen, the Spurs got open shots and paths to the basket, hitting 60 percent of their shots for a 58-42 halftime lead.
The bad news for the Pistons was they had to be saved by Antonio McDyess and Ben Wallace, the duo scoring 13 of the Pistons' 23 second-quarter points. Hamilton was 1-for-5 in the first half and drew the inevitable technical foul midway through the third quarter for yelling at referee Dan Crawford after a score.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
San Antonio vs. Detroit
Best of seven; *-if necessary
All games on chs. 2, 7 (San Antonio leads series 2-0)
Game 1: San Antonio, 84-69
Yesterday: San Antonio, 97-76
Tomorrow: at Detroit, 9 p.m.
Thursday: at Detroit, 9 p.m.
*Sunday: at Detroit, 9 p.m.
*June 21: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.
*June 23: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.