With the NBA title on the line, Tim Duncan (search) and the San Antonio Spurs (search) proved themselves worthy champions.

Duncan came up huge in the second half and was chosen finals MVP after having the worst playoff series of his career, and Manu Ginobili (search) had another breakthrough performance Thursday night to lead the Spurs past the Detroit Pistons (search) 81-74 in a Game 7 that was as thrilling as it was rare.

In a matchup of the past two NBA champions, the Spurs came through in the clutch to win their third title in seven years and deny Detroit the chance to repeat.

The Spurs are certainly not a dynasty, but their staying power as a championship caliber team helps validate a legacy that history will revere with an added measure of respect.

Duncan had 25 points and 11 rebounds while shrugging off a stretch of eight straight misses that ended in the third quarter with the teams tied. Ginobili scored 23 points with a series of slashing, scintillating drives and big passes.

Behind Duncan, the stoic established star, and Ginobili, the flashy young Argentine, the first Game 7 in more than a decade ended with the Spurs celebrating on their home court as silver and black confetti streamed down from the rafters.

"We just played a great team. I don't know how the hell we did it, but I am thrilled," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after embracing his good friend, Detroit coach Larry Brown, as the game ended. Popovich became the third coach with three titles, while Brown headed into an uncertain future still stuck on one.

"I'm just as proud this year as I was last year," said Brown, whose team recovered from two early blowout losses and dictated the series for four straight games before San Antonio — and especially Duncan — reasserted itself at the end.

The NBA had waited a long time for a game with so much at stake and so little room for error. And the difference came in the fourth quarter, when the Spurs were able to make the plays the Pistons couldn't.

Midway through the period, Ginobili assisted on a 3-pointer by Robert Horry and Duncan found Bruce Bowen alone outside the arc for another 3 that put San Antonio ahead 67-61. Detroit pulled within four before the Duncan-Ginobili combo clicked perfectly on two straight possessions.

First, Ginobili drove the lane and drew Duncan's defender, zipping a pass to Duncan all alone on the baseline for a 19-footer. Next, Duncan had three defenders collapsing on him when he saw Ginobili all alone at the 3-point line. The shot was perfect, and San Antonio led 72-65 with 2:57 left.

Detroit's next three possessions brought an airball, a foul shot and an offensive foul, but all San Antonio could produce over that shot was a single free throw by Duncan. The score was 73-68 entering the final minute when Ginobili made the play that clinched it, weaving through several defenders for a layup that was almost too easy, making it 75-68.

The Pistons, who were outscored 24-17 in the final quarter, couldn't recover.

Detroit had won 10 straight postseason games with a chance to eliminate its opponent and was trying to become the first team in NBA history to win two Game 7s on the road in a postseason. As resilient as they were, that turned out to be too tall of a task.

"I am unbelievably happy. I couldn't be happier," Ginobili said. "It's just an unbelievable feeling. I need another body to feel it."

Duncan's legacy was as much in question as his team's. He had struggled through out the series against a superior defensive team, the Pistons presenting the toughest test the Spurs had faced in the finals after defeating the 1999 Knicks and the 2003 Nets, teams that might have been a little too pleased just to have a shot at the title.

"I don't listen to anything that was said. I wanted to come out here and give my best effort," Duncan said after winning his third finals MVP. "We fought for this thing."

Duncan came up short on a dunk and a 21-footer early in the third quarter, giving him six consecutive misses, and Detroit slowly began to build upon its lead. A dunk by Tayshaun Prince, a steal and two foul shots by Chauncey Billups, a poor possession by San Antonio and a spin move by Antonio McDyess made it 48-39.

Duncan's string of misses reached eight before he converted a three-point play, and Ginobili drove for a score off a turnover to complete a 7-0 run that got the Spurs right back in it. A 14-foot bank shot by Duncan — a part of his usual repertoire that had been absent in this series — produced a 53-53 tie before he knocked down another shot off the glass, this time from a few steps farther away, to help produce a 57-57 tie entering the fourth.

Duncan had 12 points and six rebounds in the third quarter.

"Tim came out huge today. He was very focused this morning and he played like an MVP," teammate Tony Parker said.

After a flat start, Popovich told the Spurs during a timeout to start creating for each other — to stop standing around on offense and letting the Pistons be the aggressors with their defense. There was a change in Duncan immediately thereafter as he had a blocked shot, an assist and a tip-in to start a 10-0 run that gave San Antonio a 16-12 lead.

Each team's defensive intensity was a bit sharper than their offensive execution, in large part because Billups and Ginobili each picked up two early fouls, and the first quarter ended with the Spurs ahead 18-16.

Points continued to be difficult to come by in the second quarter, the Pistons hurting themselves with too many long outside shots and too few possessions in which the ball moved around, and not enough second-chance points generated by their better work on the offensive boards.

The Spurs were having their own problems, almost never getting an easy shot while trying as hard as they could — too hard, perhaps — to force their offense through Duncan. Ben Wallace had dunks on three consecutive possessions late in the first half to give him a team-high 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting as Detroit led 39-38 at halftime.