The Spurs are proving they have the defensive goods
Posted: Monday June 13, 2005 11:20AM; Updated: Monday June 13, 2005 9:49PM
Tim Duncan (right) gave Tayshaun Prince and the Pistons fits during Game 2 with four blocked shots.
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE via Getty Images
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There is an old mantra in sports that defense wins championships, which in the NBA is as close to gospel as it comes. Last year's Detroit Pistons team staged on a nightly clinic on the intricacies of team defense, while two upper-echelon defenders, David Robinson and Tim Duncan, anchored the 2003 San Antonio Spurs.
Go back even further and you'll find teams such as the Chicago Bulls, who, as talented as they were offensively, were equally dominating on the defensive end. Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan were regulars on the all-defensive teams, and power forwards Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman both garnered nods while wearing Bulls uniforms. Hakeem Olajuwon was a first-teamer during the Rockets' title run in 1994, while Bad Boys Rodman and Joe Dumars were among the premier defensive players of their era.
After two games in the NBA Finals, it appears the '05 San Antonio Spurs are primed to take their place in history as the next great defensive team. With all due respect to Detroit, which boasts the reigning Defensive Player of the Year (Ben Wallace) and a pair of defensive second-teamers (Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince), San Antonio has proven there is defense and then there is defense.
The Spurs' defensive philosophy is simple: Have BruceBowen, the best on-ball defender in the league, neutralize the opposition's best perimeter threat while the rest of the team revolves around Duncan, whose tremendous basketball acuity allows him to assess situations as they occur and make adjustments accordingly. The strategy is effective -- in Game 2, no Piston scored more than 15 points, while several times during the course of the night Detroit players were forced to fire off-balance jumpers or were met rudely by an expiring shot clock.
The other problem for Detroit is that while San Antonio can shut you down, it also has an offense capable of causing problems. In Game 2, the Spurs seemingly solved the Pistons' defensive schemes, posting 58 first-half points while consistently befuddling Detroit with some of the most basic of plays. Several times Sunday night Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili set up around half-court and ran the high pick-and-roll with Duncan. Ginobili's aggressiveness forced the strong-side defender to cheat over and deny him the lane, thereby leaving wing players such as Bowen open for uncontested jump shots. Of the 13 shot attempts Bowen had Sunday, at least eight came with no defender within 10 feet.
San Antonio also appears to have a certain continuity that Detroit lacks. For the second consecutive game, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich pulled Ginobili early in the first quarter, keeping a tight rotation of bench players Brent Barry, Beno Udrih and Robert Horry. On the other side, Pistons head coach Larry Brown is substituting at will, trying various combinations in an effort to match up better with San Antonio. A late ankle injury to Carlos Arroyo further depletes a Pistons bench that isn't very deep to begin with.
For Detroit to climb back into this series, two things need to happen: First, Brown must restore the team's confidence in itself. The Pistons clearly are a shaken team unaccustomed to taking two sound beatings in a series. Brown has won titles before, but he's lost them as well -- that makes him the only person qualified to remind the Pistons that they have the talent to compete in this series.
Second, Detroit has to ratchet up its own defense. This series will be won or lost in the trenches, not the open floor. The 76 points the Pistons put up Sunday likely is the average they'll post this entire series, but San Antonio's 97 is a more flexible number. For the second consecutive night, Ginobili scored 20-plus points, this time doing it on only eight shot attempts. Detroit has the means (Lindsey Hunter, Billups) to slow Ginobili, but the Pistons need some help. Both Wallaces (Ben and Rasheed) must do a better job of denying Manu such easy access to the lane, perhaps going as far as delivering a message to the scrappy Argentine in the form of a body shot during one of Ginobili's hard drives to the basket. Disrupt Ginobili and you wreak havoc with an integral part of the Spurs offense.
The next three games are at the Palace of Auburn Hills, making each contest a must-win for the defending champions. One loss guarantees San Antonio, at worst, a trip home with a 3-2 advantage and a chance to close out its third title in seven years on its home floor. The Pistons must play near-flawless basketball to achieve that goal, a tall order against what appears to be the next dynasty in the making.
AROUND THE FINALS
Rasheed Wallace was up to his typical tricks Sunday, choosing to make the media and the officials his enemy instead of the opposing team. The technical-foul champion managed to avoid one in Game 2, despite an Oscar-caliber flop and spread on the floor after a foul call (referee Dan Crawford showed great restraint with Wallace throughout the game). After the game, Rasheed punished the press by answering questions in front of a 3-foot wide beam, dismissing requests to move into the camera's line of sight. By all accounts, 'Sheed is a great teammate and solid man, but the level of disdain he holds for the media is not only a mockery of him but is embarrassing to the game as a whole.