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NBA Finals: A Best of Three

   by Al McMordie - 06/17/2005

So what have we learned about the NBA Finals after four games? Two things: The series is tied, and, boy, isn’t home court important? In a most unusual NBA Finals, home court has meant everything in this series. The Spurs looked unbeatable in the first two games at home, thoroughly dominating the overmatched Pistons. On to Motown, and the Spurs can’t make an inside or outside shot, while the Pistons look like world beaters.

So now it’s a best two out of three. You can make the argument that whoever wins Game 5 will win the title. The Pistons have to win Game 5 as it’s their final home game of the season, and if they do they will only have to earn a split in San Antonio to repeat as champs, which is far better than needing to win twice there (Detroit is 0-3 at San Antonio this season). If the Spurs can get off the carpet and win Game 5, they will be sitting pretty, heading home with the Pistons forced to win TWO games in San Antonio. Can Detroit win two straight in San Antonio? Probably not. The Spurs are 46-5 straight up and 32-17 against the spread at home this season, where they have ripped teams by an incredible 97-85 average. They tore up the Pistons at home in Games 1 and 2, as well. So the pressure is clearly on the Pistons to win Game 5 Sunday.

On the other hand, the Spurs came to Detroit sitting pretty, up 2-0, and now face the possibility of going down 3-2 in a series they really had in hand. The Pistons’ bench is not as good as a year ago, especially defensively, and that looked to be their undoing early in this series, as the Spurs clamped down defensively on the starters, while the offense tore up the Detroit ‘D’. However, the last two games, Antonio McDyess and Lindsey Hunter have come off the bench to provide a huge boost to the Pistons offensively. Another noticeable factor is that San Antonio hasn’t been able to get easy shots in the low post as Detroit has been ferocious in Games 3 and 4.

So now it’s a battle of will and adjustments. The home team is 4-0 SU/ATS, and all the games have been blowouts. There’s only one series that we can look at for similarities. In 1969, the Lakers and Celtics hooked up and the home team won the first six games. But in Game 7 at the LA Forum, the Lakers and Wilt Chamberlain were a 5-point favorite, but Bill Russell’s Celtics took a 17-point third quarter lead and hung on for a two-point victory. So even history doesn’t tell us that the home team should win the remaining games.

For the record, the Spurs are now 27-24 SU, 25-26 ATS on the road, while the Pistons are just 27-25 SU, 23-27 ATS on the road. Yes, home court has been "la difference," as Tony Parker and the French might say. Defense is going to be the difference these final few games. The one strategic move Detroit made for Games 3 and 4 is that they attacked the basket offensively, coming right at San Antonio defenders trying to pick up fouls. It has worked, as it’s also opened up more outside shots. It’s now up to the Spurs to come up with some adjustments for Game 5, or be content knowing that they’re still coming home for (at least) Game 6. The other point worth noting is that San Antonio had played 13 straight NBA Finals games and no team ever topped 90 points on them, which is incredible. Until these last two games – and the Pistons went way over 90 each time. Let’s hope there is at least one or two CLOSE games in this series to add some excitement and drama. But be assured that Game 5 Sunday is going to have the feel of a Game 7, as it’s likely the victor will go on to win the title. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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