2005 NBA Finals Preview: San Antonio versus DetroitThis article was originally published at Suite101.com on June 8, 2005.
The NBA Finals matchup of San Antonio versus Detroit should not be surprising to my readers. Detroit had a slightly tougher time with Miami than I expected, winning in seven games instead of six, and San Antonio beat Phoenix faster than I predicted, prevailing in five games instead of six, but we have arrived at the Finals confrontation that I envisaged in my April 21 First Round Playoff Preview article. Overall, my record is 9-5 in picking playoff series winners this season; in five instances I also correctly predicted the length of the series.
Let's take a closer look at the battle between the only franchises other than the Lakers to win titles since Michael Jordan ended his run in Chicago.
2005 NBA Finals
San Antonio (Western Conference Champion) vs. Detroit (Eastern Conference Champion)
Regular season records: San Antonio, 59-23; Detroit, 54-28
First Round result: San Antonio def. Denver, 4-1; Detroit def. Philadelphia, 4-1
Second Round result: San Antonio def. Seattle, 4-2; Detroit def. Indiana, 4-2
Conference Finals: San Antonio def. Phoenix, 4-1; Detroit def. Miami, 4-3
Head to Head: Tied, 1-1
Team Playoff Leaders:
Scoring--San Antonio: Tim Duncan (24.9 ppg); Detroit: Rip Hamilton (21.3 ppg)
Rebounding--San Antonio: Tim Duncan (11.7 rpg); Detroit: Ben Wallace (11.7 rpg)
Assists--San Antonio: Tony Parker (4.8 apg); Detroit: Chauncey Billups (6.6 apg)
Analysis/Prediction: The Detroit Pistons' playoff runs during the past several seasons have a James Bond-like quality to them--just when it seems that there is no escape they find a way out. The Pistons overcame a 3-1 deficit versus Orlando in the first round of the 2003 playoffs and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before getting blitzed 4-0 by New Jersey; last year in the first round Detroit gave away home court advantage to Milwaukee by losing game two before closing out the Bucks with three straight wins. Then, in the 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Detroit trailed New Jersey 3-2; Detroit eventually advanced to the NBA Finals only after beating the two-time defending Eastern Conference Champions in New Jerseys in a close game six and then routing the Nets 90-69 in game seven. In the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, Detroit lost game one to Indiana before taking four of the next five contests. This year Detroit trailed Indiana 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before reeling off three straight wins. So, when Miami took a 3-2 lead in this year's Eastern Conference Finals and many people broke their legs jumping off of Detroit's bandwagon, the Pistons were probably thinking to themselves, "What's the big deal? We do this all the time." Reversing the order of what they did to New Jersey last year, Detroit won a game six blowout and a game seven nail biter to return to the NBA Finals, becoming the first team to win an Eastern Conference Finals game seven on the road since Julius Erving and Andrew "Boston Strangler" Toney led the Philadelphia 76ers to victory over the Celtics in the Boston Garden in 1982. Suffocating defense and resiliency are the trademarks of the Detroit Pistons. They do their best work when their backs are planted firmly against the wall; while they may seemingly give away a game early in a series, they simply will not beat themselves once they face elimination.
The Spurs' title chances seemed a little dicey at the start of the playoff; Tim Duncan had been hobbled by repeated ankle injuries and a hot Denver team stole home court advantage from San Antonio in game one of the first round. Since then the Spurs have rolled, taking four straight wins from Denver, beating Seattle 4-2 and completely dismantling Phoenix--the team with the NBA's best record--4-1 in the Western Conference Finals. Duncan's scoring average has risen steadily in the postseason--22.0 ppg versus Denver, 25.2 ppg against Seattle and 27.4 ppg in the Phoenix series. Other than his occasionally erratic free throw shooting he completely lives up to the nickname that Shaquille O'Neal gave him--"The Big Fundamental." It is easy to predict--but difficult to stop--what Duncan will do on offense: when he is not putting his defender in the "torture chamber" on the left block with jump hooks and power moves to the hoop, he likes the top of the key jumper and he has a deadly bank shot, particularly from the left wing. If his defender crowds him, he will drive to the hoop and finish with authority. Duncan also foils defensive pressure on his jumper by swinging the ball underneath the defender's arms and then going up for the shot, invariably drawing contact and earning two free throws. His footwork (on offense and defense) is balletic, he has tremendous hands and his rebounding and shot blocking numbers discredit the notion that he is not "athletic." Without question Duncan is the best individual player in the series. All-Star guard Manu Ginobili, who led Argentina to the gold medal in the Athens Olympics, ranks second on the Spurs in scoring and assists, third on the team in rebounds and leads the way in steals. He and backcourt mate Tony Parker are the only Spurs other than Duncan who average more than 9 ppg.
As I indicated in my preview of the Detroit-Miami series, Detroit does not have a superstar player but the Pistons' starting five of Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups is probably the best in the league. Foul trouble has limited Rasheed to 33.2 mpg, but the rest of the starters are averaging at least 38.8 mpg in the playoffs (no Spur is averaging more than Parker's 36.9 mpg). If you think that this heavy workload is going to wear down the Pistons, answer this: Did fatigue seem to affect Detroit's execution in the pressure-packed final minutes of game seven in Miami?
There are several excellent reasons to pick the Spurs to win this series, including home court advantage, more than a week's worth of rest leading up to the Finals, the brilliance of Tim Duncan and the electrifying Manu Ginobili. There were also good reasons to pick the Pacers in last year's Conference Finals, the Lakers in last year's Finals and the Heat in this year's Conference Finals--but Detroit won each of those series and the Pistons will win this series as well, repeating as champions by beating the Spurs in six games.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:20 AM