Spurs memory 7: Duncan rebounds to lead Game 7 comeback to 2005 title

Date: Thursday, June 23, 2005
Place: SBC Center, San Antonio.
Score: San Antonio Spurs 81, Detroit Pistons 74 

Tim Duncan was struggling in a miserable game early in Game 7, continuing a disturbing trend that had dogged him throughout much of the 2005 NBA Finals.

With Duncan barely involved offensively, the Spurs hopes of winning the deciding game seemed to be slipping away. Detroit’s tough defense limited him to only six points and three rebounds in the first half of the deciding game.

And when the Pistons pulled away to a nine-point lead midway through the third quarter, it looked bleak for the Spurs. At that point, the Spurs captain had missed eight straight shots and 10 of his first 13 field goal attempts.

But fortunately for the Spurs, “The Big Fundamental” rebounded to spark a late comeback foiling the repeat hopes of the defending NBA champions.

With defenders Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess benched with foul trouble, Duncan erupted for 17 of his 25 points in the second half to lead an 81-74 triumph to bring home the Spurs’ third NBA title.

“My teammates were more confident in me than I was,” said Duncan, who shot only 41.9 percent from the field in the series. “That is more appreciated than they will ever understand.

“I got on a roll there for a little while. It wasn’t the greatest of games, but there was a stretch when I felt really good.”

Duncan finished with 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots. It helped him earn the MVP award for the third time in the NBA Finals, joining Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal as the only players who have won the award at least three times.

“When you call plays, it always works better when he’s out there,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after the game.  ”He was incredible, and he was the force that got it done.”

The Spurs overcame a 39-38 halftime deficit in what turned out to be a defensive masterpiece. San Antonio limited Detroit to 42 percent shooting and won the game down the stretch thanks to a pair of tactical defensive decisions by Popovich.

Leading Detroit scorer Chauncey Billups had made life miserable for Tony Parker most of the first six games of the series, averaging nearly 22 points per game. Popovich moved defensive ace Bruce Bowen to guard Billups in the second half of Game 7 and shifted Parker onto Richard Hamilton.

Billups was limited to five shots in the second half. Hamilton led Detroit with 15 points, but struggled through a 6-for-18 shooting night.  

Popovich also discombobulated the Pistons with the use of a zone defense in key stretches of the second half.

“Parker did a good job on (Hamilton), and Bowen did a great job on Chauncey,” Detroit coach Larry Brown said. “I thought Pop did a great job of getting us out of stuff with their defensive effort.”

The matchup between Brown and Popovich was emotional for both. Brown gave Popovich his chance to start coaching in the NBA when he named him on his original staff when he came to the Spurs in 1988. 

The two coaches dined often during the Finals, including the night before the deciding game. 

“Last night was real special for both of us,” Popovich said. “So we spent time together and talked very little about basketball, which is awkward because that’s all we ever do.

“We haven’t talked much about why we’re on the planet or what our fate might be upon death and what happens to an individual at that point. It’s always napkins and salt shakers and all of the staff that doesn’t matter.”

Robert Horry, the hero of the Spurs’ Game 5 victory earlier in the series, produced 15 points in a masterful performance off the bench. Horry hit a crucial 3-point shot early in the fourth quarter to spark an 8-2 run that gave the Spurs the lead for good.

Manu Ginobili erupted for 11 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, including six in the final minute, as the Spurs held off one last charge by the Pistons.

Duncan came up with two critical passes out of double-teams that led to clutch fourth-quarter 3-pointers by Bowen and Ginobili that helped seal the victory.

It was the most difficult NBA Finals series for the Spurs and the only one to take seven games to finish. It was the NBA’s first seven-game series since 1994.

“We just played a great team. I don’t know how the hell we did it, but I am thrilled,” Popovich said.

They said it, part I: “He put his team on his shoulders and carried them to the championship. That’s what great players do,” Detroit center Ben Wallace on Duncan’s performance.  

They said it, part II: I felt like the game was going bad, yeah, I did feel that. But it was just about pushing through it and just the perseverance,” Duncan, on his early Game 7 struggles.        

They said it, part III: “We only go as far as Tim takes us. And today, he took us to the top,” Horry to the Express-News on Duncan’s play down the stretch.

They said it, part IV: “I know he’s going to come back and figure everything out. Timmy is always the focal point,” Popovich on his confidence in Duncan down the stretch.

They said it, part V:  ”The whole game was about perseverance, sticking to it, keeping it going. We just stuck with it. We just kept pushing. We didn’t do anything special. We believed in what we were doing and we believed that if we did it the right way, we could get it done,” Duncan on the Spurs’ comeback.  

They said it, part VI: “He was thanking me. I don’t know what he was doing. I was just telling him how proud I was of him and his team,” Brown, telling reporters about his post-game meeting with Popovich.

They said it, part VII: “We didn’t have the greatest game. We scored 81 points, which is pretty decent for us, but we didn’t have the greatest game where we ran away from anybody. But we stuck with it,” Duncan on his team’s Game 7 performance.

They said it, part VIII: “Nobody cares. Talk about Iraq or something that matters,” Popovich, to reporters when asked about his reaction to winning a third NBA title.

They said it, part IX: “I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for Larry Brown. He’s the best,” Popovich, describing his mentor during the trophy presentation.

They said it, part X: “There were two good games in a seven-game series. This was the worst finals in the history of the league,” Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock, ripping the quality of play in the 2005 Finals.

THE UPSHOT: The Spurs avoided the stigma of becoming the first team to lose Games 6 and 7 at home since the league went to the 2-3-2 scheduling format in 1985. Their hopes for a repeat were foiled the following season when they were dethroned after losing in seven games to Dallas in the 2006 Western Conference semifinals. Brown left for the New York Knicks after the 2005 Finals, lasing only one year after a disappointing 23-59 season. Flip Saunders replaced him and led the Pistons to a franchise-record 64-18 record in the regular season before they lost to eventual NBA champion Miami in the Eastern Conference finals … Horry became only the second player to win championships with three NBA teams with the 2005 title.

Previous Spurs most memorable moments:

No. 8: Fisher’s 0.4 buzzer-beater .

No. 9: Parker makes history as .

No. 10: for Spurs ’79 series loss

No. 11: Duncan’s decision to remain .

No. 12: seals 1994 scoring title.   

No. 13: makes history.

No. 14: to wrap up 1978 scoring title.

No. 15: Strickland’s critical turnover .

No. 16: Spurs join NBA .

No. 17: Ice becomes the .  

No. 18: Kerr’s unexpected barrage .

No. 19: Rodman’s final Spurs incident .

No. 20:after injury-riddled 3-15 1996 start.

No. 21: Spurs for David Greenwood.

No. 22: Spurswith bubbly.

No. 23: Horry-Nash , may have sparked title run.

No. 24: Ice’s clandestine arrival .

No. 25: Barkleywith series-clinching shot.

No. 26: Silas becomes first Spur.

No. 27: Robinson makes history with .

No. 28: after crucial 1999 victory at Houston.

No. 29: on Halloween night.

No. 30: Torrid San Diego shooting

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