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Pistons Turn From Ordinary to Ornery

Back home for Game 3, they rediscover their old game and attitude to wallop San Antonio, 96-79, and trim Spurs' series lead to 2-1.

June 15, 2005|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Nice you could make it.

After coming apart in Game 1, pulling a prime sulk in Game 2 and falling behind, 2-0, in the NBA Finals, the Detroit Pistons came home Tuesday night, turned back into their ornery selves, broke open Game 3 in the second half and bombed the San Antonio Spurs, 96-79.

It was the first time the Spurs had ever given up 90 points in 14 games over three appearances in the NBA Finals.

It was also a landmark for the Pistons, the first time they even got to 80 in this series.

"I think we figured out how hard we have to play," Piston Coach Larry Brown said. "... I don't think we realized we were in the Finals against a great team that's unbelievably well-coached."

These were more like the Pistons the Lakers remember from last spring. Richard Hamilton, who scored 28 points total in San Antonio and missed 24 of 36 shots, had 24 Tuesday.

Chauncey Billups had 20, including the first six in a 12-2 run early in the fourth quarter to break the game open. Said Tim Duncan: "He was kind of on a single-man run."

Ben Wallace, criticized for taking 15 rebounds in the first two games, had 15 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and three steals.

The Pistons dialed up their defense on the Spurs' Manu Ginobili to Kobe Bryant level, holding him to seven points and six shots.

Of course, it doesn't usually take three games of the Finals for a team to figure out it has to play hard, but nothing about this season's Pistons is normal.

Before Game 3, there were rumbles about trouble in their ranks -- once more. The players were supposedly upset about Brown, who is thought to be on his way out. The guards and the big men were said to be upset at each other about who was getting the ball and who wasn't. Billups' passive first half in Game 2, while the Pistons were getting blown out, was said to be his reaction to complaints he wasn't distributing the ball.

Then there were the referees. The Pistons have been on a season-long pout, assuming the role of martyrs since the league told its officials to allow less contact.

It reached a crescendo, inconveniently enough, in the first quarter of Game 2 when Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince got two quick fouls and the Pistons then let the Spurs walk all over them.

Brown said they lost their aggressiveness because of the calls. On Monday's off-day, he went further, complaining about two of the veteran officials who had worked Game 2, Dan Crawford and Ronnie Garretson.

"There's a simple statistic," Brown said. "We're 1-7 with one referee [Crawford] and 1-11 with one referee [Garretson]."

This was even getting old here. In Tuesday's Detroit Free Press, under a headline that read "Stop all the whining, play", columnist Michael Rosenberg noted the Pistons had no reason to complain, having been called for 2.6 fouls a game fewer than opponents this season -- the biggest disparity in the NBA.

It was a different Piston team that showed up Tuesday. They came out playing furiously, starting when Wallace stole Ginobili's inbounds pass on the game's first possession, took it to the other end, dunked, was fouled and made the free throw.

So it wasn't a good omen when the Spurs came back to take a 27-21 lead at the end of the first quarter, making it look easy, with Duncan taking only three shots and Ginobili one.

After that, it was a dogfight until the fourth quarter, when the Spurs faded and the Pistons ran them over.

"You know, Ben was a man possessed going to the boards," Spur Coach Gregg Popovich said. "I thought their perimeter guys did it. That was disappointing because they sustained it for 48 minutes and we didn't."

It looked like last spring against the Lakers. The Pistons trapped Ginobili coming off pick-and-rolls, making him give up the ball, just as they trapped Bryant a year ago. They played Duncan inside with one defender, as they did with Shaquille O'Neal. Duncan had a series-low 14 points, missing 10 of his 15 shots.

So, just when it looked like the Finals were about to go down the drain, it was the Pistons who did something great. Tune in Thursday for Game 4, to see if this is a real series or if the Pistons took one game too many to get serious.

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