Spurs need no history lesson
The faces of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan will get a lot longer if the Spurs lose Game 4.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. Phil Jackson sits down with ABC before tipoff of Game 1 for a much-hyped interview. Phil Jackson holds a press conference to take back his old job hours before Game 3. Phil Jackson gets his own SportsCenter segment the day after a Finals game.
Lakers, Lakers, Lakers.
Even when it's Spurs vs. Pistons in the NBA Finals, it's tough to keep those omnipresent Lakers out of the discussion.
Then again ...
Maybe the Spurs don't want to.
"I think it's great stuff," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when asked if the national media's obsession with the Phil-and-Kobe Bryant remarriage was somehow encroaching on the Finals' coverage.
"It's about the NBA. It's great."
Yes. He really said great.
Reason being: It's great for Pop because any mention of the old Lakers immediately dredges up recollections of what happened to San Antonio a year ago, when it took a 2-0 lead in the rivals' second-round showdown and then crumbled.
Great for Pop because the mere mention of "Lakers" and "2-0 lead" in the same sentence should make it easy for the Spurs to maintain that "appropriate fear" their coach is always talking about.
The Spurs comfortably won the first two games against the Lakers last May, and Tony Parker was widely hailed for torching Gary Payton.
Sound familiar? It should, for it's essentially the same script seen in the first two games of these Finals. Except that Manu Ginobili generated the fawning this time.
The parallel extends when you remember what happened to the Spurs once the series shifted out of Texas. The Lakers went home and bullied Parker into a funk same as Detroit with Ginobili in Game 3 and then really hurt San Antonio with that unforgettable turnaround jump shot from Derek Fisher with four-tenths of a second to play in Game 5.
Painful memories? Sure. Yet they're also helpful memories now as Game 4 approaches. The Spurs thought they had those Lakers pinned down at 0-2 and failed to win another game. If any Spur dares to believe the same about that 2-0 lead over the Pistons, which has been halved to 2-1 and threatens to be reduced to a 2-2 tie on Thursday night, all Pop has to say is
Lakers, Lakers, Lakers.
Just hearing about that team should snap the Spurs into the focus they'll need to cut down on turnovers, reestablish their killer ball movement and find the openings in a rejuvenated Detroit defense.
A hobbled Ginobili could scarcely turn a corner without a big body in his path in Game 3, and Duncan was inexplicably ineffective as well, but the Spurs' two stars are quietly confident that they'll combine for more than the measly 21 points they managed Tuesday night.
They know what winning Thursday night would mean.
"It is just a real difference-maker," Tim Duncan said of Game 4. "It's a whole new series (at) 2-2, as opposed to being 3-1."
Ben Wallace's difficult season has continued in the postseason, with the death of a childhood friend and widespread criticism over his subpar performance. Game 3 found him back in his familiar dominating role.
Brown allows the Piston players to call the trap on the floor.
The Spurs admit they were rattled by the Pistons defensive pressure in Game 3. "The Professionals" lost their cool and coughed up the ball 18 times.
"We weren't patient," said Spurs point guard Tony Parker. "We didn't get into our press offense and rushed our passes."
In one key stretch at the end of the third quarter, Brent Barry, Beno Udrih and Manu Ginobili turned it over on three straight possessions.
"We played sloppy," said Barry, "and they played with a sense of desperation."
Backup guard Lindsey Hunter, the key to the Pistons' trapping defense, calls the trap in certain game situations. Hunter said, "We try not to have a pattern," but the Pistons like to trap off of made free throws or a steal and score.
Hunter, like Bruce Bowen, has gained a reputation as a defensive specialist. He said Wednesday, "I always like to be on the ball. I try to make them real uncomfortable on the court."
The Pistons press works especially well in Auburn Hills. Both teams know the home crowd feeds the press frenzy. So you can look for the Pistons to set the trap again in Game 4.
Chris Ramsay, from The Palace of Auburn Hills
Don't expect Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to be the guy who volunteers a theory or two about the blowout epidemic so far in these Finals.
The first three games have been decided by 15 points or more, but Pop doesn't have an explanation.
"And I will spend absolutely no time thinking about it," he said. "But I thought it was a great question."
Tim Duncan, they say, doesn't have two bad games in a row.
And what does Duncan say about Manu Ginobili?
"He's a lot like me. He's going to refocus and he's going to do what he has to do to either get away from the attention or to refocus once the game comes about and do a lot better job with it. " Duncan offered.
The Spurs can only hope Duncan's scouting report holds true. San Antonio can't expect to be competitive in Game 4 if Duncan and Ginobili combine for just 21 points, as seen in Game 3.
Ginobili's response, of course, depends greatly on how his bruised left thigh responds. The Spurs, though, don't seem overly concerned.
They've seen Ginobili play hurt for much of the postseason, even though it's been tough to tell. Ginobili's knee-on-knee collision with Tayshaun Prince in the first minute of Game 3 might not have looked bad on television, but the contact occurred in the precise spot above Ginobili's left knee that has plagued him for weeks.
"I'm OK today," Ginobili said Wednesday. "I'm going to be better tomorrow."
Marc Stein, from The Palace of Auburn Hills
I definitely believe that Manu Ginobili's injury hampered his abilities during Game 3.
It was evident in the way he was unable to effectively cut off of screens and also when he tried to break opposing players off the dribble.
After seeing him score 26 and 27 points in Games 1 and 2, respectively, it was a disturbing to see Ginobili struggle through Game 3.
That's not to take anything away from the Pistons' superb Game 3 defense. They did a great job of playing the Spurs' pick and roll and not letting them get the penetration that has been killing them during this series.
We saw a much more physical Pistons team that made the Spurs pay a price whenever they tried to drive the lane. That physical approach stymied the Spurs' desire to continue to attack the lane as they'd done in the first two games of this final.
The Pistons absolutely must stay active and physical defensively because Ginobili will be back in Game 4 and will be looking to make up for his seven-point, six-turnover game.
Tim Legler, in Auburn Hills
Sight for sore Spurs: Ginobili practiced Wednesday and declared his leg "OK."
Carlos Arroyo played at the end of Game 3, but that doesn't mean his ankle is fully healed.
The Pistons' reserve guard played the final minute Detroit's blowout win and hit a jump shot, but says the ankle he sprained on the final play of Game 2 is only "80 percent, 75 percent maybe."
"It felt good last night not great, but good," said Arroyo. "But it still bothers me a lot. I get that pinch when I move sideways or try to make an explosive move."
Fortunately for Detroit, his services weren't needed on Tuesday because Detroit's backcourt avoided foul trouble. But his absence left Detroit with a seven-man rotation and forced shaky ball handler Lindsey Hunter to play the point when Chauncey Billups checked out.
Thus, Arroyo may have to grit out a few minutes on a bad wheel in what shapes is a must-win Game 4 on Thursday.
John Hollinger, in Auburn Hills
The Pistons' chance to win this series starts with Ben Wallace's energy.
He got this team and the crowd rocking and rolling at the beginning of Game 3 and it carried throughout.
It's amazing to watch him when he gets going because he's so athletic. He gets out there and starts rebounding like a maniac, sending the other team's shots back in their faces and getting this team revved up.
When he's setting the tone like that, the Pistons are able to get into their underrated transition offense and get points. In a series with two excellent defensive teams like this six to eight points in transition is huge. That also allows the Pistons a chance to keep the Spurs out of their comfort zone, which they weren't able to do in Games 1 and 2. If they are able to stay up on San Antonio, it stops the Spurs from being so patient in picking their spots.
Chauncey Billups was the key for the Detroit Pistons in Game 3 and he's the key for them for the rest of the series.
In Game 3, he scored 20 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed six rebounds. But his impact on the game was felt through more than just his stats. He set the tone for this team with his defense and more importantly his patience, setting up his teammates and leading his team on the court.
We often hear the term floor general used when it comes to point guards and Billups' Game 3 performance demonstrated what that term means. A point guard rewards his teammates for making the right plays, encourages them when they struggle and takes the shot himself when he needs to.
Game 3's Chauncey Billups is the player that Pistons' fans are used to seeing control the flow and tempo of games. The Pistons need him to continue that way of playing if they want to make this a series.
Keith Jackson II, in Auburn Hills
In every game so far, the most aggressive team won, so Game 4 will not be one for the faint of heart.
The Spurs had better prepare themselves for playing against an inspired Pistons team wanting to get this series back to square one. San Antonio must play as it did in the first nine quarters of this series.
Winning Game 3 shows the Pistons that they must play the same way to win games against the talent San Antonio can put out on the floor.
Ben Wallace must get the double-figure rebounds and his intimidating defense is a must.
Look for the trapping of every screen and roll to continue, since Ginobili struggled throughout Game 3 and the doubling caused San Antonio all kinds of problems.
Chauncey Billups will again be asked to score repeatedly against Parker, especially when the game is close.
Detroit realizes now how hard it has to play against these Spurs to win.