AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The NBA Finals aren't looking so lopsided anymore, thanks to a burst of life from the defending champion Detroit Pistons (search) that took them three games to summon.
Playing with a level of energy that was nowhere to be found in the first two games, Ben Wallace (search) and Richard Hamilton (search) led the way as the Pistons thoroughly outplayed the San Antonio Spurs in the second half and won 96-79 Tuesday night in Game 3.
Television ratings have been down and interest has been low, but that might start to change now that the Pistons have made things much more competitive and a little more compelling.
No longer is there a chance for a sweep, and never again will anyone question whether the Pistons can even play with the likes of Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Co.
Ginobili got hurt in the game's first 30 seconds was reduced to a non-factor for the first time in the series, and Duncan could not match the energy or enthusiasm generated by Wallace, the Pistons' Defensive Player of the year. Wallace's dunk with 4:27 left gave Detroit its largest lead, 88-73, and the Pistons held on easily from there.
Now, the Pistons will look to even the series at 2-2 in Game 4 on Thursday night and to ensure that the series will be heading back to Texas.
Hamilton scored 24 points, including 10 in the third quarter when Detroit took the lead for good, and Chauncey Billups added 20 . But although the Pistons got most of their points from their backcourt tandem once again, they were anything but a two-man team.
Wallace had 15 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and three steals, and Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess (search) each added 12 points.
Detroit became the first team to score 90 points against the Spurs in 13 NBA Finals game, putting together the type of poised, pumped-up performance they hadn't displayed since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at Miami.
Detroit had lost by 15 and 21 points in the first two games of the series, but they ditched the downtrodden demeanor that contributed to their undoing in Games 1 and 2.
Everything about the Pistons was different, from their defensive intensity to their dedication in terms of getting more people involved on offense. Hamilton was more assertive in shaking off the pesky defense of Bruce Bowen (search), Prince was much more effective limiting Ginobili, and Wallace seemed especially motivated to put two very sub-par performances behind him.
Wallace blocked five shots in the first quarter alone, and he had half of Detroit's offensive rebounds in the first half when Detroit had a 24-12 edge in points in the paint and an 11-0 advantage in fast-break points.
He set the tone right from the start, stealing the opening inbounds pass after he was called for a jump ball violation, then racing downcourt for a dunk and a three-point play.
Wallace ended an eight-game streak of scoring in single digits and a five-game streak with fewer than 10 rebounds.
Ginobili went down just a few seconds later, bruising his left thigh in a collision with Prince just 21 seconds into the game. Though he wasn't sidelined for long, the star of Games 1 and 2 had just four points at halftime with four turnovers. he finished with seven points and six turnovers.
Tony Parker led the Spurs with 21 points.
San Antonio opened the second half with a 13-5 run ending in an alley-oop reverse slam by Wallace off a pass from Hamilton, a play that brought the fans out of their seats and left rapper Eminem waving a red, white and blue towel from his seat behind the Spurs' bench.
But the Spurs came right back with a 9-0 run to regain the lead 56-54 before the Pistons closed the quarter with a 16-9 run to take a five-point lead into the final quarter.
"There are no games to waste," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (search) said beforehand. "We've created an opportunity for ourselves, and it would be great to take advantage of it."
They didn't, and now it's a whole different series.
Notes:@ Wallace's five blocks in the first quarter tied Bob Lanier's club record for blocks in a quarter. ... Doctors used CPR to revive a man who had an apparent heart attack during the first half in the seats behind the north basket. The fan received a loud ovation as he was wheeled out on a stretcher holding his thumb up. ... Keyboardist and vocalist Stevie Wonder played the national anthem on a harmonica.