Sunday, June 12, 2005
Updated: June 13, 6:11 PM ET
Uh-oh! Pistons must dig deep from 0-2 hole
By Marc Stein
SAN ANTONIO -- It wasn't just a beating. This was a teasing, too.
A teasing with some taunting tossed in.
The San Antonio Spurs zoomed to a Game 2 lead of 23 points Sunday night, teetered toward one of their famed fourth-quarter collapses and then reeled off 13 unanswered points after the hopeful Detroit Pistons had clawed within eight.
All of which a) suggests that maybe these Spurs don't fold in fourth quarters like they used to and b) doesn't even include Sunday's worst for the champs.
What's worse than Ben Wallace's failure -- again -- to crack double digits in rebounds ... and getting blanked 33-zip from the 3-point line ... and flying home knowing that the Spurs have essentially won every individual matchup so far?
What's worse is seeing Bruce Bowen hound Richard Hamilton into another 14-point struggle ... while seeing Bowen outscore Rip, too.
Or maybe the worst is knowing that Tim Duncan -- yikes -- has been the Spurs' second-best player in the NBA Finals so far.
Either way ...
Either the Pistons don't mind the historically daunting view from 0-2 down and really believe in their trusted Win Whenever We Have To approach.
Or the champs are in very deep and weird trouble, after losing their poise in both halves in absorbing this 97-76 pounding.
"I am very surprised," said San Antonio's Robert Horry, reminded that the Spurs have outscored Detroit by a full 41 points since the Pistons seized that 17-4 lead to start Game 1.
"If we were in their situation, we would be very upset," added Manu Ginobili, unintentionally landing one more jab.
Said Pistons coach Larry Brown: "I don't think we've been nearly as aggressive as them. I think we've kind of gotten frustrated and went on our own a little bit too much. I think defensively we've been real soft."
In other words: Uh-oh.
Even the Pistons, who are fond of saying they never doubt themselves, have to be wondering what sort of response they can muster when these unexpectedly lopsided Finals shift to Michigan for Detroit's three home games. Normally you'd bet on the Pistons to win at least two -- and the Pistons themselves undoubtedly figured they'd sweep at home before this series started -- but Ginobili is hurting them more than Duncan.
Which should spell out the sort of trouble Detroit faces.
The Pistons were understandably miffed in the final period, when they scrapped all the way to within 81-73 from a 69-46 hole in the third -- only to be whistled for three fouls in a crucial 36-second span. The Spurs turned those fouls into four points at the line before a huge steal by Ginobili led to a dead-eye Bowen triple from the corner that hiked the hosts' lead back to 15.
Yet the tease of scrambling back and then falling away again doesn't absolve Detroit from blame for its lifeless first half, which proved fatal. When he wasn't gushing about how the Spurs "just dominated two ballgames" and how they "made every extra pass that needed to be made," Brown was wondering aloud about his team's disturbing lack of early energy.
Detroit didn't block a shot in the first half. According to the stats kept on the Pistons' bench, they didn't take a first-half charge, either.
"They have hit us with the first punch," Brown said, "and we've been back on our heels and haven't responded very well."
"Every time we chipped away it," Chauncey Billups added, "they hit us with another [blow]."
And if you can't even count on some fourth-quarter help from the Spurs?
Said Billups: "They were good, man. They were good."
So good that they satisfied their coach, who's always on them about how following up a playoff victory with more focus is tougher than rebounding from a loss.
The Spurs apparently listened, judging by the defense that stretched their Finals streak to 13 games -- out of 13 -- holding the opposition under 90 points.
"It gets more difficult after a win to come back and understand how that subconscious sort of complacency can set in," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "You can't allow that to happen. You have to keep an appropriate fear of your opponent so that complacency will dissipate as soon as possible."
The solace for Detroit, then, is that mustering appropriate concern and respect for the opposition shouldn't be a problem now. The Spurs obviously have Detroit's attention.
Yet that long list of problems at the top will test Pop's theory about how "it's easier to react well after a loss."
"I hope so," Brown said. "The way they are playing, and with the way they are executing, the contribution they are getting from a lot of people ..."
In other words, to finish the thought: Uh-oh.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.