Spurs overcome late collapse, nip Pistons

By Jeff McDonald

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Spurs were rolling early in the fourth quarter Tuesday, up 15 on the hapless Detroit Pistons, visions of an eight-game winning streak already dancing in their heads.

They were doing what most visitors to the desolate Palace at Auburn Hills do these days — handling the building’s floundering, slightly dysfunctional inhabitants without breaking much of a sweat.

And then, Detroit center Ben Wallace did something he rarely did in 1,055 career games. He threw in a 3-pointer.

“I knew right then, the basketball gods had it out for us,” Spurs guard Danny Green said.

Matt Bonner’s take?

“It was like the ‘Twilight Zone,’” he said.

The Spurs finally won 99-95 to run their rodeo road trip record to 4-0, but not before squandering that 15-point lead in 6:03, falling behind by as many as three, then pulling a difficult victory out the other side.

Wallace’s 3-pointer, just the seventh of his 16-season career, lit the powder keg on the Pistons’ comeback.

It came with the shot clock at one second, ruining one of the Spurs’ best defensive possessions, and pulled Detroit within single digits, 79-70, with 9:49 left.

After that, everything the Pistons threw rim-ward started going in. Jonas Jerebko swished another 3-pointer after another apparent Spurs stop — Detroit kept possession when Richard ? Jefferson won a jump ball with Ben Gordon by such a margin that the ball went out of bounds.

“We let them back in the game,” said guard Manu Ginobili, scoreless in his second game back from a broken hand until sealing it with a foul shot with 13.5 seconds left. “We gave them life when it looked like it was over.”

A month ago, when they were 0-5 on the road, the Spurs would have taken it. Tuesday, they were appalled by how close they came to giving one away against an 8-22 team.

“It’s a learning game for us,” said Tim Duncan, who finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for his fifth-straight double-double. “We can’t take anybody lightly, even for a short period of time.”

Of course, there is no defense to prevent a Wallace 3-pointer, besides standing there and begging him to take it.

The 37-year-old Wallace broke the NBA record for most career games by an undrafted player, a mark held by former Spurs point guard Avery Johnson. He did not survive this long by pretending to be Ray Allen.

“It’s because he’s the meanest man in the valley,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Wallace finished with nine points and five rebounds, and helped hold Duncan to 7-of-17 shooting.

In the fourth quarter, with the Spurs (20-9) in the midst of unraveling, Wallace caught Duncan with an inadvertent elbow that sent the Spurs’ captain sprawling with a small cut under his left eye.

When the best Detroit could muster midway through the fourth was the meanest man in the Valley for three, Popovich liked his odds.

“I hope he won’t be mad at me, but we’d rather have Ben shoot it than Tayshaun (Prince),” Popovich said.

Wallace’s 3-pointer energized the Pistons, sparking a 14-5 run to put them up by three after a Rodney Stuckey free throw with 4:26 to go.

Apparently unmoved by Wallace’s newfound 3-point touch, Popovich chose to purposefully foul him on three consecutive possessions in the fourth.

Wallace went 3 of 6 from the line, but the move disrupted the Pistons’ rolling momentum. From there, the Spurs regained their focus and regained the game.

Tony Parker scored half of his 14 points in the final 1:13, including a go-ahead layup and a teardrop to push the Spurs’ lead to three with 27.3 seconds remaining.

When the fourth quarter began, the Spurs looked ready to set the cruise control for tonight’s game in Toronto. By the end, after a trip through the Twilight Zone via Detroit, they felt fortunate just to survive.


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