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THE San Antonio Spurs' 2004-05 championship was forged from two hurricanes. The first hit St. Croix in the Virgin Islands when Tim Duncan was a teenager. It damaged his local pool and forced the national-class swimmer to try another sport, this one played with a ball. The second hurricane, a lefthander named Manu Ginobili, hit San Antonio before the 2002-03 season. The Spurs weren't sure what they had when the Argentine showed up in training camp, but they knew that his hurly-burly, full-bore style would rearrange the landscape.
Against the Detroit Pistons in these Finals, Duncan was ice and Ginobili was fire and--with a lot of help--they produced the Spurs' third title in seven seasons. It was the hardest of the three, an enervating seven-gamer against a team that surrounded Duncan and pounded Ginobili and appeared to be in control in the third period of Game 7. But the Spurs, given up for dead in some quarters after losing a closeout Game 6 at the SBC Center, refused to buckle. The result was a classic finale.
The Fresh Prince could hardly be blamed for the Spurs' start, however. San Antonio came out looking like a team ready to be swept. In the words of several Spurs, they were "overmotivated and overexcited" and made bad decisions on offense and defense. San Antonio's deficit reached 13-4 when Popovich called timeout and offered one of his patented sarcastic lectures. "It would be nice if we actually ran a play all the way," he said. "And maybe, if I'm not asking too much, we could play a little defense."
Midway through the first quarter is a little early to proclaim a turning point, but from then on San Antonio was in control. Bruce Bowen locked in on Rip Hamilton, who would miss 14 of his 21 shots. And Hamilton's backcourtmate Chauncey Billups, who used his size and strength advantage on Tony Parker to score 25 points, got off only one shot in what would turn out to be a decisive fourth period.
Then, too, Detroit's guards forgot about running the offense and looking inside to Rasheed Wallace. The Human Technical Foul hit his first two shots, but those would be the only four points he'd score. Meanwhile, the usually dependable Ben Wallace could not impose his considerable will on the game, finishing with seven points and eight rebounds. In fact, it was Ben's technical foul--he tore off his headband in anger after he was called for a block on Ginobili early in the fourth period--that precipitated the Pistons' demise. San Antonio was ahead by just 55-53 at that point, but Ginobili then went on a tear, scoring seven points in a 2:24 span, and the Spurs never looked back.
Ginobili finished with 26 points and Duncan with 24 and 17 rebounds, so it would seem easy to identify the stars of the game. But stats aren't everything. Though he finished with a bagel in the scoring column, Bowen played an outstanding game, harassing Hamilton while still doubling down on the Pistons' post-up players.
Robert Horry provided another example of the Spurs' doesn't-show-up-in-the-box-score selfless play. He combined with Parker to get a double-team steal on Lindsay Hunter that led to a Glenn Robinson dunk. He forced Antonio McDyess into a travel with his post defense; then, when isolated in the open floor on Hamilton, Horry forced the Detroit guard to give up the ball.
Alone, the plays didn't seem to mean much. But they were part of a pattern. Both teams are hustle-oriented, do-the-little-things types that claw their way to wins; in Game 1 the Spurs were the superior clawers.