SAN ANTONIO – Two steps quicker, two games ahead.
The San Antonio Spurs (search) were at their best Sunday night in Game 2 of the NBA Finals (search), speeding out to a big early lead and frustrating the Detroit Pistons (search) the rest of the way in a 97-76 victory for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship round.
Once again, the quickness and creativity of Manu Ginobili was the one thing that stood out. But unlike in Game 1 when Ginobili took over all by himself in the fourth quarter, this time he did it earlier, too, and received plenty of help.
Ginobili scored 27 points with seven assists, while Tim Duncan was his usual efficient self with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Throw in Tony Parker being a speedy complement to Ginobili's dashing exploits, Bruce Bowen's 3-point shooting from his favorite spot in the corner, along with Robert Horry's effort plays, and this one was all but over by the time the fourth quarter began.
"Nothing's easy. I think they had a poor night shooting tonight. We played some pretty good D, but they also missed some shots. It was very physical, bodies were knocking," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We made shots tonight, obviously Manu made a lot of 3s, Bruce made 3s, and that helps us offensively and made things look easy."
Ginobili and Bowen each had four of the Spurs' 11 3-pointers.
The Pistons did manage to pull within eight points midway through the final quarter, but Ginobili stopped them by drawing Rasheed Wallace's fifth foul, then coming up with a steal, an assist and several free throws as the lead quickly went back to 20.
Detroit guards Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton did next to nothing offensively for the first three quarters, and on defense they were helpless to stop the precision and shiftiness of Parker, the point guard from France, and Ginobili, the shooting guard from Argentina.
Opponents had been averaging less than 86 points against the Pistons in the playoffs, but the Spurs had everything clicking so well that they reached that number with 5:44 left.
"I'm really pleased with the way they reacted to the win. It's easier to react after a loss," Popovich said. "Subconscious complacency can set in ... and you can't allow that to happen."
Only two teams in NBA history have come back from 2-0 deficits to win a championship, which couldn't have been much of a reassuring thought for the Pistons when they boarded their plane after the game and headed back to Detroit.
Game 3 is Tuesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and the Pistons are a long way from where they were a year ago when they split the opening two games in Los Angeles before returning home and closing out the Lakers in five.
"They're going to get inspired, they're going to play tougher. But we've been playing really well on the road, so we're very confident we can get one there," Ginobili said.
This one got away from the Pistons quickly.
Tayshaun Price and Hamilton each picked up two fouls by the midpoint of the second quarter, leaving Detroit coach Larry Brown with a dilemma: Should he stick to his longstanding rule of "two fouls and you're out," which would leave the both of them on the bench for the rest of the first half — or should he bend?
In his pre-game meeting with reporters, Brown said he'd only break his self-imposed rule if he felt the game was getting too far away from his team in the first half.
Well, this must have been one of those rare occasions, as Prince and Hamilton were both back on the floor well before the first quarter ended with San Antonio ahead 30-19.
Ginobili had a particularly spectacular stretch midway through the second quarter, executing three completely different plays that showcased the special way he sees the court.
First, he ran a give-and-go play with Parker in which the two were never closer than 15 feet and used nearly half the court. Parker was a step or two past midcourt when he hit Ginobili with a pass far on the right wing behind the 3-point line, and as Parker cut hard to the basket Ginobili hit him in stride with a perfectly placed one-handed bounce pass for a layup.
Next, Ginobili drove the lane and drew two defenders before flipping the ball out to Horry for a wide-open 3-pointer. Finally, he stopped in the lane after coming around a pick, reversed direction to lose Prince and made a quick cut to the basket.
Parker hit him with a pass, and Ginobili dropped in a layup for a 49-31 lead.
San Antonio led 56-42 after Horry stole the Pistons' lazy inbounds pass with 16 seconds left before halftime, giving the Spurs enough time for one more possession that ended with two foul shots by Ginobili.
The Argentine guard had 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting with five assists, while Duncan was 4-for-5 for 14 points and Parker was 5-for-7 for 10 points at halftime. Prince did not score in the half for Detroit, while Billups and Hamilton combined for just seven points.
San Antonio's lead reached 23 points in the third quarter, and Ginobili made big plays each time Detroit threatened to get within striking distance. A quick-release 3 from the left side made it 76-58, and Ginobili then passed out to Beno Udrih for a 3 that game the Spurs a 79-63 lead entering the fourth.
Billups scored six points in a 10-2 run that made it 81-73 before Ginobili made a few more big plays to end the threat.
So frustrated were the Pistons that Brown and Billups picked up simultaneous technical fouls with 3:54 left. Ginobili hit both shots to get the lead back up to 20.