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At a loss

'D' on Manu, Prince's struggles helped doom Pistons

Posted: Friday June 24, 2005 1:45AM; Updated: Friday June 24, 2005 5:03AM
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Tayshaun Prince's inability to exploit his matchup advantage was a big reason why the Pistons didn't repeat as champions.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Sometimes having the heart of a champion isn't enough to defeat a true champion. For seven games the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons battled, each refusing to go away when the opportunity was presented, neither willing to see their seasons come to an end.

But while Detroit fought gamely, in the end the Spurs were not to be denied, winning their third title in seven seasons. To say Detroit lost the title would be as foolish as it is misleading. The Pistons had it taken from them by the only team in the league worthy enough to wear their crown. Hindsight is always 20-20, but here's a look back at a few of the turning points of the series for the Pistons.

Mission Impossible III: Game plan Ginobili

As improbable as it may sound, the Pistons did in fact have a sound game plan for defending Manu Ginobili. They just implemented it two games too late.

The Argentine star poured in 53 points in Games 1 and 2, both Spurs wins, while encountering very little resistance on his way to the basket. In Games 3 and 4, Ginobili found his path to the basket blocked by Ben and Rasheed Wallace -- and that was when he was able to get around the bump-and-grind defense of Tayshaun Prince and Lindsey Hunter. The result was a combined 19 points on only 15 field goal attempts, low numbers for a man who averaged 16.0 points on 10.5 attempts during the regular season.

A performance unbefitting a Prince

Prince's coming-out party came in the 2003 playoffs, when the lanky small forward completely dominated Philadelphia in the low post. In this series Prince was reduced to a perimeter player despite holding a 3-inch height advantage over Ginobili. Prince attempted only 14 free throws in the series, taking away what could have been a major weapon for the Pistons.

The Horry factor

Detroit couldn't find a way to take advantage of the 34-year old Robert Horry, who logged major minutes on his way to winning his sixth NBA championship. Wits begets strength, and Horry is a regular fountain of NBA knowledge. Throughout the series he was able to recognize what his strengths were in a particular matchup (force Ben Wallace out on the perimeter, attack Antonio McDyess around the basket), while the Pistons were unable to exploit Horry's relative lack of strength around the rim. In the end, the Pistons learned a valuable lesson, albeit the hard way -- never underestimate Big Shot Bob.

All Bowen, all the time

San Antonio utilized Bruce Bowen like a heat-seeking missile. Any time one of the Pistons' perimeter players got hot, he was met with the flailing arms of Bowen, who for the fourth consecutive series was able to stifle one of the opposition's best players.

Richard Hamilton joins Carmelo Anthony, Ray Allen and Shawn Marion as Bowen conquests. In Game 7, Bowen was matched with Chauncey Billups and successfully took the point guard out of his game, denying his path to the basket and coming up with a key block on Billups late in the game. Bowen's length created problems for Hamilton and Billups throughout the series.

Finally, if Game 7 was Larry Brown's last game as a coach, then the NBA will lose one of it's greatest ambassadors. Brown is the definition of what a coach should be, a teacher first, an example always. The love for Brown is deep rooted and extends from every player or assistant coach he has ever come in contact with. As the final buzzer sounded Thursday night, the first person Bowen sought out was Brown, a testament to what Brown has meant to the game for the last 33 years. Farewell Larry, you shall be missed.