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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2005 NBA Finals Review: San Antonio Outlasts Detroit

A slightly different version of this article was originally published at Suite101.com on July 14, 2005.

The NBA Draft has come and gone and summer league play is underway, but before we completely turn our attention to the 2005-06 season it is worthwhile to briefly examine the 2005 NBA Finals. After blowouts in the first four games, basketball fans were treated to a classic championship battle--in effect a three game mini-series for the title. San Antonio won "game one" on Robert Horry's clutch three pointer but Detroit countered by winning "game two" on the strength of 23 point by Rip Hamilton and 21 points with no turnovers (!) by Chauncey Billups, who channeled Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth when he memorably described Detroit's motto as "If it ain't rough, it ain't right." Detroit had come back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the series and then bounced back from Horry's heroics to knot matters once again. It had certainly been "rough" for Detroit and when the Pistons took a 48-39 lead in "game three" of the mini-series it seemed like it would turn out "right" for the defending champions--but Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili made all the big plays down the stretch and the San Antonio Spurs claimed their third title in seven years.

Sports are a second guesser's delight. Would Miami have won the title if Shaq and Wade were healthy? Did fatigue from the Miami series cause Detroit's slow start in the Finals? (the Pistons took three of four from the Spurs in the middle of the series and might have won four straight games if not for Horry's shot) Why on Earth did Rasheed Wallace leave open the guy who had been killing the Pistons the whole second half of game five--the guy whose nickname is "Big Shot Rob"--to shoot a three pointer when Detroit was up two with less than 10 seconds left? How good would the Lakers have been if Shaq had lost weight and willingly deferred to Kobe the way that he lost weight and willingly deferred to Wade? The first two questions are unanswerable, the third will cause Larry Brown, 'Sheed and Pistons' fans endless sleepless nights for years and the fourth sounds like the basis for a future article.

While second guessing is entertaining, sometimes it is important to stick to cold, hard facts--just the stats, ma'am, to paraphrase a famous line. The Finals stats make for some interesting reading. One team outscored the other by nearly two ppg, had more assists, more steals, more blocks, many more field goals made (248-216), a better field goal percentage, a better free throw percentage, fewer turnovers and was only outrebounded by .7 rpg. That same team had six players average at least 10 ppg, compared to four such players for the other team. If you think that the team with the gaudy stats was San Antonio then you were not paying attention to the Finals. So how did the Spurs win? They dominated Detroit from behind the three point arc, punctuated and symbolized by the one moment that will always be remembered from this series--Horry's game five dagger. San Antonio made 51 threes and shot .398 from that distance, compared to 18 and .240 by Detroit. San Antonio won so convincingly in this category that the Spurs could lose almost every other statistical category and still emerge victorious. Despite his roots as an ABA player and coach, Larry Brown is not a big fan of the three point shot that was made famous by that league and after looking at the 2005 Finals stats he probably likes it even less.

If Larry Brown returns to coach the Pistons in 2005-06 it will be interesting to see how the Pistons seek to narrow the "three point" gap--will they add more shooters to the roster or will they place more emphasis on reducing the three point accuracy of their opponents? This question brings to mind a memorable sequence in Shaquille O'Neal's ESPN reality show; during a road trip bonding session with his new Heat teammates, O'Neal said that Phil Jackson's coaching philosophy versus the Spurs was to single cover Duncan and not leave any shooters open, believing that they could not create their own shots and that Duncan would not have four monster games in a seven game series. Who will test that theory first against the Spurs--Shaq's Heat in the NBA Finals or Jackson and Kobe's Lakers in the Western Conference playoffs?

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:31 AM

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