Spurs-Pistons series may be low on style but big on substance

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

The league's last two champions meet in a series that begins Thursday in San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO -- The NBA Finals will be more about substance than style, more about matchups than minutiae.

Neither the Detroit Pistons nor the San Antonio Spurs are all that sexy on the surface, but both are a sight to behold for basketball purists. And if one looks deep enough and factors in a few special subplots, there might just be that little extra something that draws in the masses.

Detroit is the defending champion. San Antonio won the year before.

The only superstar in the series, the Spurs' Tim Duncan, seems dull but is quietly charismatic. The coaches, Detroit's Larry Brown and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, are such good friends that "Pop" was the best man at Brown's wedding. They speak on the phone nearly every day.

Both teams have made defense and team play their calling cards. Neither has a player who will make your jaw drop.

And then there are the cities, San Antonio and Auburn Hills, home to the Alamo and The Palace, scenes of two of the most epic fights in American history.

You've got Detroit's Rasheed Wallace with his foul mouth and his championship belt, and San Antonio's Manu Ginobili with his South American flair and his Olympic gold medal.

It won't just be about X's and O's.

"I think you're going to see another great series," Detroit's Chauncey Billups said after the Pistons defeated the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to earn the right to face the well-rested Spurs. "It's going to be a tough challenge. You know, I just can't wait, man, I can't wait."

Game 1 is Thursday night, and Game 2 is Sunday. The series then shifts northward for Games 3, 4 and 5.

All subplots aside, it shapes up as a fair match -- maybe even the kind of series that will last seven games, something that hasn't happened in the NBA Finals since 1994.

San Antonio has been waiting around since finishing off the Phoenix Suns on June 1, and the Spurs finally got to go through a practice Tuesday knowing exactly who stands in the way of them winning their third championship in seven years.

That team, Detroit, is a formidable obstacle.

Start with Ben Wallace, because with the Pistons you can really start with anyone. They are a team built around the concept of being a team.

Wallace was the NBA's defensive player of the year, and now he'll be asked to stop a two-time MVP in Duncan whose low-post offensive game is refined and multifaceted.

Then there's Richard Hamilton, the Pistons' leading scorer. He has scored at least 20 points in all but one of the Pistons' 18 postseason games.

But Hamilton has a formidable obstacle trying to stop him, too, in Bruce Bowen, the Spurs' defensive specialist who will try to stick to Hamilton like a sweat-drenched T-shirt.

It's one of many matchups that will make this series so interesting from a tactical standpoint.

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