Why Spurs will stay focused
The unassuming Ginobili knows exactly one speed on the court.
SAN ANTONIO When you listen to the San Antonio Spurs take the podium at their daily press conferences, your first impression is they are too soft-spoken, too humble, too downright nice to be tough.
They always give credit to their opponent, even after they inflict a flat-out smackdown like the one they handed the Detroit Pistons in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night at the SBC Center.
They are careful to express humility, almost to the point where they sound surprised at their own success. They are, quite simply, a class act.
Trust me, folks: It's all a fašade. Beneath the humble, classy surface lies a vicious, tenacious, stone cold bully, and that's why there won't be a letdown on Sunday for Game 2.
The biggest difference between the two teams in the first game was in the level of sustained intensity at both ends of the floor.
Before the game, the arena had the palpable feeling of a heavyweight fight. The series finds the last two defending NBA champions facing off for bragging rights.
When the opening bell sounded the Pistons came out charging. They physically beat the Spurs up.
They got the ball to Rasheed Wallace down low against San Antonio's superstar, Tim Duncan, and 'Sheed delivered two easy post-up buckets. Then they went to Tayshaun Prince against Manu Ginobili down low and he "big boyed" him the way a father does his son in the driveway for an easy two.
At the other end the Pistons were getting their hands on every ball, contesting every shot and controlling the glass. At the end of the initial onslaught the Spurs had burned two timeouts and were reeling from a 17-4 deficit.
Fortunately for the Spurs, heavyweight bouts last 12 rounds.
At that point, several things happened that bode well for them in Game 2.
First, they began to play the kind of "D" that made them the best defensive team in the NBA. The second is the way the players individually responded.
Tim Duncan got ticked off and gobbled up every rebound there was to be had. Bruce Bowen rented some real estate inside Richard Hamilton's jersey and liked it so much he decided to stay awhile.
Nazr Mohammed saw Spurs' legend Artis Gilmore sitting courtside and did his best impersonation by blocking shots and being relentless on the offensive glass.
Ginobili? Well, he just got pesty. He deflected passes, took charges, stripped the ball and drove to the hole with reckless abandon.
Suddenly, the Pistons found themselves in unfamiliar territory. They were on the receiving end of a physical beating. As a result they lost their cool and turned to the officials for help, drawing a technical foul in the process.
Once the Spurs shook off the rust and fought through the butterflies, they gained a rhythm offensively. They just waited for their two stars, Duncan and Ginobili, to take over and put it away.
Put it away they did, and we're going to see the same intensity from the Spurs in Game 2.
In those first few minutes of Game 1 they had the defending champions in their house punching them in the mouth, and the Spurs didn't like the way it felt. They know that this is a Pistons team that isn't going to be happy with its performance and will come out swinging again. That knowledge will get the Spurs to come strong.
Detroit coach Larry Brown always keeps a close eye on his point guard, Chauncey Billups, as in this practice warmup on Saturday.
Duncan, Popovich and Ginobili know that if the Spurs slip and lose Game 2 at home, this series suddenly looks a lot different.
'Sheed, eager to master a video game, was a no-show at Saturday's press podium, too.
What happened to you the other night? One minute you were the life of the party (3-for-3 in the first nine minutes of Game 1). The next minute, you were gone (0-for-3 the rest of the way).
Later when asked about your disappearing act, you said, "That's probably a question better suited for Chauncey or Rip or whoever you would like to ask." It sounds like you were blaming them for not getting you the ball.
Our ESPN experts and even your coach Larry Brown didn't see it that way. Here's some of their advice for Game 2:
The shot distribution needs to be more balanced and allow Rasheed Wallace to get more attempts. It's not just his teammates who need to do this; Rasheed must put himself in position to make plays.
Rasheed Wallace made his first three shots against Tim Duncan in the first period. He attempted only three more the rest of the way and missed them all. 'Sheed must be more aggressive going after his own shot.
You know, we had big guys open, sometimes we missed them, but a lot of times I don't think we did enough to demand the ball. So that's something where we're going to have to do a better job.
And Pistons' president of basketball operations Joe Dumars had this advice for Rasheed: "Shoot the ball."
Hope we see you at Game 2, Rasheed. Stay a little longer this time.
Chris Ramsay, from the SBC Center in San Antonio
I was a little put off by Larry Brown's decision to keep Tayshaun Prince on the bench with two fouls in the second quarter. I thought there was far too much substituting on both sides of the court. I come from a school of thought where a guy is a starter for a reason and a guy is a bench player for a reason. At this point in the season, when you have longer and more numerous timeouts due to TV obligations, it's important to take advantage and play your starters longer.
I understand that Larry Brown may have been worrying about foul trouble for Prince, but Prince could be the X-factor for the Spurs because he's a good offensive player and can be great defensively. If he can get it going on the defensive and offensive side of the ball the Pistons will be in really good shape to win this series.
Bill Walton, in San Antonio
Is the Pistons' bench a problem?
Greg Anthony: No, I believe Game 1 was an anomaly. We're not going to see Lindsey Hunter playing defense this poorly and not contributing to the offense, and we're definitely going to see a better performance from Antonio McDyess.
The Pistons' guards off the bench are going to be the true key to this series and they know this. The Pistons are going to be in trouble if Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups have to play 43 minutes and chase Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili around the entire time. That's not a realistic task for a team that wants to win.
On the flip side the Spurs' bench didn't play that great themselves. This wasn't a situation where the Spurs' bench so severely outplayed Detroit's that there's a true cause for concern. The Pistons are simply coming off short rest and need to play better, but I don't see this bench as a problem. They are going to play well in this series.
Tim Legler: Coming into this series I expected the Pistons bench to potentially plague them. This isn't a very deep team. They don't have one or two guys who can come off the bench and reliably spark them on both sides of the court.
Antonio McDyess has been able to do that to a certain extent at times, but he hasn't been truly consistent. Also, their guard play coming off the bench has been spotty at best.
They rely on Lindsey Hunter for his defense to spell Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups and tonight he didn't come through and instead gave them a bad defensive performance. Also, the Pistons need Carlos Arroyo to stop dribbling so much and run this offense while Billups is out.
The Pistons are going to need every point they can get to win in what will be an extremely tight series.
Speaking of the Pistons' Game 1 bench woes, it's time for Larry Brown to take backup point guard Carlos Arroyo completely out of the rotation. He's simply not a good enough point guard for this team to rely on him when they need to start making plays and scoring points. He dribbles too much and takes this team out of its offense too often for coach Larry Brown to feel comfortable.
On top of that he's a huge defensive liability when he's in the game. There's nobody he can guard for any period of time on the other side of the court. The Spurs are too efficient offensively for the Pistons to have a guy on the court at any time who can't help them defensively.
The past two series have been disasters for him and it's becoming obvious why the Pistons were able to get the Utah Jazz' starting point guard for so little.
Greg Anthony, in San Antonio
The sound coming from the Pistons afterward tells me that Detroit still doesn't understand what the Spurs are all about.
Richard Hamilton said he got whatever shots he wanted, but he simply missed. Excuse me, Rip, but that's not exactly how it went down. If those are the shots you want, then get used to shooting 7-21 from the field on a regular basis. Bruce Bowen forced Hamilton into taking tough, contested shots from the second quarter until the final horn.
Meanwhile, Rasheed Wallace talked about the Pistons having unforced errors. Wrong, 'Sheed. Those turnovers and missed shots were most definitely forced.
This is a team that needs to get rid of that attitude and start focusing on the task at hand because it seems like the bullies on the block aren't recognizing a little competition. They should have known better because, after all, these bullies roamed the neighborhood once before. They just moved away for a year.
Tim Legler, in San Antonio
What's Game 2 worth? It's still early, right?
On the 26 occasions the Finals have started with a sweep of the first two games, the team down 2-0 has won ... twice.
The '69 Celtics reversed the tables on the Lakers, and, in 1977, our very own Bill Walton, our very own Dr. Jack Ramsay and their Trail Blazers overcame Dr. J's Sixers.
The Pistons should not look forward to trying to repeat history 28 years later.
There's no doubt in my mind that the Lakers would be the best situation for Phil Jackson. He knows this team and they already have the precepts of his triangle offense in place from his last stint there. Also, he won't have to deal with any squabbling between his two best players, because this is obviously Kobe Bryant's team now.
In addition to that, Kobe is coming off a season where he probably learned a lot about himself as a player. He should know now he can't do it all by himself. He needs a structure and a coach who can handle him, and he'd have that with Jackson.
People forget that Jackson is a great coach. Sure he's had some tremendous talent on his teams throughout his career, but they were all players who hadn't won without him. He simply makes great players even better.
I saw firsthand proof of his greatness as a coach while I played for the New York Knicks after Michael Jordan's first retirement. Without Jordan, Jackson led his team to 55 wins and to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they lost to my team in seven games.
As great a coach as Jackson is and as great a player as Bryant is, it still all falls on the front office, led by GM Mitch Kupchak. He has to put together a winning nucleus for Bryant and Jackson to do the special things they are capable of accomplishing. Right now they could bring in Phil Jackson, Michael Jackson, Tito Jackson or Randy Jackson and this team wouldn't make the playoffs.