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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 didn’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 Detroit’s coffin.

Certainly, the series is not over just yet. San Antonio is up 3-2 after Sunday’s thrilling overtime win in Game 5, 96-95. But look at these numbers: 46-5 straight up, 32-17 against the spread. That’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 Detroit’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 Wallace’s soft ‘D’ 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, it’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 didn’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 they’ve won. The Pistons' bench isn’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 Pistons’ bench was Antonio McDyess, and he played 18 minutes. So Detroit’s bench provided 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 4-for-9 shooting, which isn’t much.

San Antonio’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 Spurs’ 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 – 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 they’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.

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