Spurs making easy work of Detroit

Jun 14, 2005 5:47 AM

Wow!

It’s not all that surprising that San Antonio leads Detroit 2-0 in the NBA Finals heading into Tuesday’s Game 3 at the Palace in Auburn Hills. After all, the Spurs merely defended their home court by winning the first two games in San Antonio.

But the manner in which they dominated and frustrated the Pistons was almost shocking, especially following the quick early start in Game 1 when Detroit opened up a 17-4 lead.

That’s been the sole highlight for the defending NBA champions. The Spurs have completely taken Detroit out of its game, often limiting the Pistons to just one shot at the offensive end of the court. Meanwhile, the Spurs have displayed a nicely balanced offense of their own. The trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have had their way with Detroit and the contributions of Robert Horry have been seen before.

Things might very well change for the next three contests, all in Detroit barring a four game sweep. In fact, the Pistons have opened as solid four-point favorites to draw within a game of pulling even in the series. But considering how the Pistons seemed totally unable to adjust following the rather lopsided 15-point Game 1 defeat (outscored 80-52 after starting strongly) one has to wonder if the Pistons have enough to make this series competitive.

From a wagering standpoint the first two games have also been a bit surprising. Thought to be the most competitive of the possible Finals series, the first two games have seen San Antonio cover the point spread by 8½ and 16½ points respectively.

Solid handicapping fundamentals would have us back Detroit in Game 3, but caution is advised. Although the reasons why Detroit must win Game 3 are all too clear, don’t for a moment think that the Spurs don’t want to win equally as much.

This is a common flaw in the thinking of those relying upon psychological handicapping — only considering the mindset of the team in the "must win" scenario without looking from the perspective of the supposedly satisfied opponent.

The Spurs would like nothing better than taking a 3-0 advantage and having to win just one of four remaining games. They clearly have the confidence and momentum, but things will be tougher on the road. They always are.

The totals in the series have been split, but still the "under" has been the preferred pace. This was most obvious in Game 1, which saw just 153 total points were scored. It was less obvious, but still clear in Game 2. The Total barely went "over" after the pace was for a high-scoring contest following both the first quarter and halftime.

The "under" will still be playable in Detroit, provided the total does not dip below 170. It will have to be the Pistons defense on their home court that gets them back into this series.

The most prudent course of action in wagering on the side might best be to sit out Game 3 and see how Detroit responds. Those backing San Antonio have seen nothing to suggest the Spurs will not be competitive in Game 3. But knowing how good of a team the Pistons are and the quality coach Larry Brown is, the play here in Game 3 will be Detroit minus the number.

The Pistons should be giving their most inspired effort of the finals, knowing that a loss here virtually ends their season. Detroit still is the defending champion. That class and character should show through when their best effort is mandatory.

A solid win would make the Pistons worthy of backing in Game 4 as an even slightly higher favorite, say laying 5. In such a scenario, the Pistons would also be a solid play in Game 4 before backing the Spurs in Game 5 to avoid a three game road sweep.

But a poor effort Tuesday by the Pistons, especially a losing one, might make the Spurs a solid play in Game 4 to complete a sweep.

Should Detroit make a stand and force a fifth game, the Spurs would be attractive as slight underdogs to wrap up the series at Detroit in five.

The pick here a week ago was for Detroit to win the series in six. That possibility still remains although the series has not unfolded as expected, with Detroit splitting the two games in San Antonio. Still, Game 3 holds the key.

A Pistons win and they have new life. A loss and the Spurs have all but wrapped up the NBA Title unless Detroit can unlock the formula used by baseball’s Boston Red Sox in their comeback last fall against the New York Yankees.