Already a hero back home in Argentina (search), Manu Ginobili (search) made himself pretty popular in this big ol' Texas town. Ginobili started the game's decisive surge by bowling over Ben Wallace (search) early in the fourth quarter, a play that resulted in a disputed foul on Wallace and started the San Antonio Spurs (search) on their way to an 84-69 victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.
Wallace ripped off his headband in disgust, and Ginobili's free throw on the ensuing technical foul against Wallace began a 19-4 run that put San Antonio ahead by 17. He later added a dunk and a 3-pointer to stave off Detroit's subsequent rally in one of the lowest scoring finals games ever.
It was an awesome second half for Ginobili, especially in the fourth quarter when his drives into the lane produced several impressive baskets. Ginobili shot 9-for-10 in the second half and led all scorers with 26 points, 15 in the fourth quarter.
"I struggled in the first half so I was very upset. I tried to come back with more energy and more aggressiveness," said Ginobili, who won a gold medal last summer at the Athens Olympics.
"When I started feeling that everything was going good for me, I just felt I was great, couldn't feel better. This is the NBA Finals, and the first game is key. This was probably one of the highlights of my season."
Tim Duncan (search) added 24 points and 17 rebounds and Tony Parker scored 15 points for the Spurs, who recovered from an early 13-point deficit to win the opener of the series — only the third time in NBA history the past two champions have squared off in the finals.
The point total tied for the fourth-lowest in the finals in the shot clock era, eight off the record set on April 7, 1955, when Fort Wayne beat Syracuse 74-71. The Pistons' 69 points were the third-lowest in the finals, 15 off Utah's total in a 42-point loss to Chicago on June 7, 1998.
Game 2 is Sunday night, and in all likelihood it'll be another defensive-minded, grind-it-out game. That's what this one was until Ginobili started doing his thing.
The third-year guard shot 6-for-6 in the fourth quarter to help San Antonio outscore the Pistons 29-16 over the final 12 minutes.
"Manu had one hell of a night, and we did play good 'D' in the second half. We boarded well, so we put ourselves in position where we could win a basketball game, but offensively, it was Manu Ginobili. He was something else," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (search) said.
San Antonio began to pull away after Wallace was called for the technical foul for ripping off his headband and complaining. He had been called for a blocking foul when he thought it should have been a charge on Ginobili.
"I thought that technical foul was definitely the turning point," Detroit's Richard Hamilton said.
"It was a tough call," Parker said. "He got mad after that, and he didn't stop penetrating, he kept attacking."
Ginobili's free throw started a 5-0 run that ended with him driving the lane and again flattening Wallace — this time with nothing called — to make it 60-53. Two more drives into the lane ending in baskets followed during a 7-0 run, Ginobili drawing a foul against Hamilton on the second one and completing the three-point play for a 67-55 lead with 7:38 remaining.
It was 74-57 before Detroit had a 10-0 run to quiet the Spurs' home crowd, but Ginobili brought them back to life by driving the lane for a left-handed dunk and then knocking down a 3-pointer with 2 minutes left.
"He's a slasher, a shooter, an energy guy — and he did all of those," said Detroit's Chauncey Billups, who scored 25 points.
Hamilton shot 7-for-21 and scored 14 points for the Pistons, who missed at least a half-dozen layups before Wallace lost his composure to shift the momentum squarely to the Spurs.
"We got outworked all night. That's it. No other comments," Ben Wallace said.
Teammate Rasheed Wallace (search) also didn't have much to say.
"They won. We lost. They made shots. We didn't. Bottom line," were his only post-game comments.
The Pistons' length bothered the Spurs right from the start, with Rasheed Wallace able to poke the ball away for two steals in the first 6 minutes as the Pistons opened a 13-4 lead. Duncan had a turnover, a missed dunk and a bobbled shot attempt before he made his first basket, clearly bothered by Rasheed Wallace's defense.
A blocked shot by Billups — yes, even the point guard was altering shots — led to a breakaway layup by Hamilton for a 17-4 lead. The Spurs pulled to 20-17 by the end of the first quarter and tied the game 33-33 3 1/2 minutes before halftime.
"We knew it was going to be like this; these guys are a heck of a defensive squad," Duncan said. "That's what you saw in that first half. I think we all started out with a little bit of jitters ... I missed a dunk and stuff like that. Just had to have the game start coming to me. Once we started going there, everybody got comfortable and I think we got through it."
San Antonio finally went ahead when Duncan rebounded Bruce Bowen's airball and dropped it in for a 42-41 lead, and the Spurs stayed ahead for the rest of the third quarter and took a 55-51 lead into the fourth.
Notes:@ The 153 total points, and the Pistons' 69 points, were the lowest in a Game 1 since 1953-54 when Minneapolis beat Syracuse 79-68. ... The national anthem was sung by pop singer Alanis Morissette, a recently naturalized American by way of Canada. Bryan Adams, who's still Canadian, performed at halftime. ... Glenn Robinson, who did not play in the Western Conference finals, was one of the first Spurs off the bench and led the team with three blocks.