SAN ANTONIO — From "Big Shot Rob" to the "Big Stop Mob."
There were no individual heroes Tuesday night, only the collective effort of the Detroit Piston defense, shutting down the San Antonio Spurs in the final two minutes of Game 6, preventing Robert Horry or any other Spur from beating them with a killer shot and ensuring a Game 7 at the SBC Center on Thursday night.
The Spurs didn't score for the final 2:21, and the Pistons rolled off eight points to take a 95-86 victory and even the NBA Finals at three games apiece. Three Pistons scored in the last two minutes, typical of their offensive balance.
But it was the Secret Service sweep-level defense they played in crunch time that showed why this team has been a championship contender for the past two seasons.
"We just said, 'Everybody's got to play one-on-one defense. Don't help out on three-point shooters,' " Piston forward Tayshaun Prince said. "That's basically what we tried to do. We just played some good team defense down the stretch which allowed us to hold on."
Coaches always yell it in late-game timeouts: "Let's get a stop!"
(Well, most coaches, at least. Detroit's Larry Brown went Hallmark on his squad, telling them in a late huddle, "Hey, I didn't tell you, I love you guys." He had a mushy moment because it's a given that Brown is leaving the Pistons after this series; he even referred to these games as the "last run" in a pregame interview.)
Maybe Brown didn't feel the need to say anything about their defense during the timeouts. This team is all about 'D,' right down to the Olde English D on the Tigers baseball caps several players wear. As Joe Dumars, the Pistons' president of basketball operations, said earlier in the series. "Defense is not about strategy. You have to have the will to try to stop somebody."
He would know. His Pistons of the late 1980s and early '90s ushered in the NBA's tilt toward the defensive end of the court that has held sway for a decade and a half. The coach of those Bad Boy Pistons, Chuck Daly, says this Detroit group matches his in the three key defensive areas: effort, rotation and rebounding.
So after Prince's hook shot in the lane gave the Pistons a three-point lead with two minutes remaining, Ben Wallace came over to block a Manu Ginobili layup at the basket. Wallace controlled the ball and threw it off the body of Ginobili, who had fallen out of bounds.
Now the Spurs were spooked, thinking and worrying about where the defenders would come from. Ginobili passed on an open three-pointer, drove, got stuck and threw the ball away. On the next possession, Tony Parker missed a three-pointer in the corner. Tim Duncan got the rebound, but missed two hotly contested layups, then Ginobili missed another three as Prince ran at him with one of his long arms extended.
Horry took a last-gasp three-pointer and that was contested as well. They were running at him and the rest of the Spurs throughout the fourth quarter, when San Antonio made only six of 20 shots. The Pistons went into such a complete lockdown mode that instead of sweating out the last shot they were able to spend the final seconds exchanging high fives at halfcourt.
"We were doing what we were trying to do the whole game," Ben Wallace said. "We were fronting Duncan. We were trying to make him shoot over the top when he catches the ball, try to make him fight against either Rasheed, [Antonio McDyess] or myself and the shot clock. We were able to get that done down the stretch and force them to take tough shots and give them outside shots with a hand in their face."
The Pistons learned their lesson from Game 5, when Horry dropped five three-pointers on them, including the game-winner in overtime after Rasheed Wallace committed the mortal sin of leaving him to double-team Ginobili.
Credit Wallace for bouncing back to become a key contributor in Game 6. He scored seven of Detroit's nine points in a critical fourth-quarter stretch.
"Even though I did a bonehead play the other night, I had to put it behind me," Wallace said. "It was over with."
But the series is far from over. Game Seven. Two of the best words in sports.
It took a while, but this series finally turned into the close, good battle we expected.
And Tuesday brought the announcement that the NBA and the players union averted a lockout by reaching a new collective bargaining agreement. Neither side scored a decisive victory, leaving the fans as the big winners because there won't be any missed games.
Good news for Lakerland, too: the new regulations reducing the length of contracts and amount of raises benefit the Lakers now that their agenda involves attracting free agents rather than retaining them.