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NBA Finals: Game 6 and the Heart of a Champion
by Al McMordie - 06/20/2005
We know who the hero was, but who was the goat in the pivotal Game 5? Answer: Rasheed Wallace. Wallace had just 5 rebounds, played soft much of the game and was 6-of-15 shooting. In addition, the Pistons led most of the overtime and appeared to have the game in control, but on the biggest shot of the series, Wallace didnâ€™t pressure Robert Horry on the inbounds pass with 9 seconds left, then went to cover the man with the ball in the left corner, leaving Horry to easily step inbounds, wide open for a three-pointer. Horry had already nailed 4-of-5 threes and had 18 points, all after halftime. Make it 21 points as Big Shot Bob nailed another one, which also puts a nail in Detroitâ€™s coffin.
Certainly, the series is not over just yet. San Antonio is up 3-2 after Sundayâ€™s thrilling overtime win in Game 5, 96-95. But look at these numbers: 46-5 straight up, 32-17 against the spread. Thatâ€™s the Spurs in the SBC Center this season, a place where they bludgeon opponents by 12.6 points per game (97.5-84.9 average). Certainly injuries can play a key role in Game 6 and possibly 7. But the Spurs showed enormous heart and pride. After getting blown out in Games 3 and 4, they got up off the carpet and won a big one in Detroit.
The hero, of course, was Horry, who drilled a three-pointer with one second left in the third quarter, stopping Detroitâ€™s 11-2 run that got them the lead and the momentum. And he continued to make clutch play after clutch play, getting a little help from Wallaceâ€™s soft â€˜Dâ€™ and poor decision making. For the record, the Pistons are just 27-25 SU, 23-27 ATS on the road this season. They are also 0-3 SU in San Antonio, so if they are going to repeat as champions, itâ€™s going to take a Herculean effort.
San Antonio won on guts in Game 5, taking control of the series. They were on the ropes more than once, but didnâ€™t give up. Notice they won the rebounding battle 45-42 and shot 40% from three-point land (8-of-20). Another thing that stood out was the bench play, which has been big for both teams in the games theyâ€™ve won. The Pistons' bench isnâ€™t as strong as a year ago. Lindsey Hunter went wild in Game 4, but was 0-for-3 in 16 minutes in Game 5. The only other guy off the Pistonsâ€™ bench was Antonio McDyess, and he played 18 minutes. So Detroitâ€™s bench provided 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 4-for-9 shooting, which isnâ€™t much.
San Antonioâ€™s bench saw 22 minutes from Brent Barry, 4 minutes from Devin Brown and 32 minutes from Horry, which is almost a 2-to-1 edge in minutes. Horry was heroic, with 21 points, 7 rebounds. In all, the Spursâ€™ bench had 25 points, 10 boards, while the Pistons' pine contributed 11 points, 7 boards. Championships are won by teams coming through at crunch time. Game 5 represents the only close game of this series, but the Spurs made the biggest plays at the crucial times.
One other key element that was lost to many was a move by Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich near the end of the game, putting defensive specialist Bruce Bowen on Chauncey Billups, who missed a difficult driving layup. Bowen had played Richard Hamilton the whole series, but that subtle move was a big one. Now the pressure is all on the Pistons, having to win twice on the road if they want to win the title. And it bears repeating â€“ San Antonio is 46-5 SU at home. The Spurs' last nine home games (all in the playoffs) have seen San Antonio win 8 of them by 21, 15, 10, 12, 17, 22, 10, and 28 points. That gives you a good explanation why theyâ€™ll be considerable favorites in Game 6 and (if necessary) 7. Currently the series' odds are San Antonio -1250 and Detroit +800, and the Spurs have been installed as 5.5-point favorites on Tuesday. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.