So 22 seconds into Game 2, on the first possession, Ginobili got the ball on the left wing. His defender, Tayshaun Prince, fearing his penetration, backed off. And Ginobili stuck a three-pointer. Amazingly, the Spurs never trailed after that.
No, it wasn't that easy. But Ginobili's missile came with a message: Whatever you give us, we will kill you with it. Detroit pinned down on Duncan, so Duncan acted as a decoy or set the high picks. (He took only 10 shots, finishing with 18 points.) Detroit played far off Bowen, who was scoreless in Game 1, so Bowen got up a team-high 13 shots and connected on five of them, including four from three-point range, to finish with 15 points. Detroit did a poor job of locating Horry during the 28 productive minutes the backup power forward spent in the game, and Horry filled up the box score with 12 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals and a blocked shot.
But the game belonged to Ginobili, who has advanced from question-mark second-round pick to elite player faster than anyone in recent memory. He made four of five three-pointers--helping the Spurs outscore the Pistons 33-0 from beyond the arc--but gave Detroit its biggest headaches when he was isolated on top with the ball. In effect, Ginobili controlled the game with 27 points and seven assists.
Further, Ginobili and Parker ran second-period plays two minutes apart that served to highlight the difference between the teams--one conducting a hoops clinic, the other lost in space. First Parker passed to Ginobili on the wing and continued to speed toward the basket. Sensing that Parker's defender, Billups, had turned his back on the ball for a split second, Ginobili threw a pass right under Billups's arms for what amounted to a 40-foot give-and-go layup. Then Parker had the ball when Ginobili began what seemed to be a routine run from under the basket to the top of the key to receive the ball. Suddenly Ginobili sensed that he was being overplayed by Prince, so he stopped, cut back toward the hoop and took a perfect pass from Parker for a layup. The instant recognition of what the defense had given them by both players was extraordinary.
The coup de gr�ce was delivered near the end of the half by Horry, when he dived to make a steal from an unsuspecting Billups, then called timeout from his back. "Those are the kind of plays Robert has been making his whole life," said swingman Brent Barry.
The Pistons whittled the lead from 23 points to eight with 7:21 left. But in the next two minutes Ginobili made two free throws, got a steal and assisted Bowen on a trey, and the Spurs were never threatened again as they built a 2-0 series lead.
PISTONS 96, SPURS 79
JUNE 14, The Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit
Of all the Pistons who had slept through Games 1 and 2, the Spurs were most concerned about Ben Wallace. Enervated by his seven-game gladiatorial lockup with Miami's Shaquille O'Neal in the Eastern Conference finals and irritated by all the speculation swirling around his coach (Would Brown leave Detroit to run the Knicks? Would he go to Cleveland?), Wallace had been a nonfactor. But he was bound to come alive.
It took him two seconds on this night.
Ginobili threw what seemed to be a routine inbounds pass in to Nazr Mohammed, and Wallace, having gone back to his trademark Afro after two games of cornrows, stepped around for the steal. He thundered downcourt, went up for a dunk, drew a foul from the trailing Mohammed and finished off a three-point play.
It set a tone for the Pistons. Over the next 10 minutes Wallace blocked five shots. Blocks have a greater impact than merely resulting in a missed shot. They send a message that intruders into the lane will be treated rudely. In this game, only Parker had much success getting into the paint, finishing with a team-high 21 points.