Pistons give it their all, but fall short of goal
Losing the Fight
SAN ANTONIO, June 23 – Losing is never easy. Losing a Game 7 of the NBA Finals, as Detroit did 81-74 to San Antonio Thursday night, is only that much more difficult.
“It’s tough, it’s tough,” Ben Wallace said. “Any time you come this close to winning the championship and have it slip through your fingers, it’s going to be tough. You know this team, the rest of these guys, everybody came out and played hard and gave it their all and that’s all we can ask.”
All Pistons president Joe Dumars asked was that the team be in the game with four minutes to play.
With three quarters of play in the history books, and the number “57” in lights on each side of the scoreboard, the Pistons stood a mere 12 minutes away from the franchise's fourth Larry O’Brien trophy. But they would never reach the four minute mark Dumars spoke of, as the Spurs pulled away early in the fourth quarter.
When time expired and confetti streamed down from the rafters, the Pistons players retired to the visitor’s locker room to summon the courage to shower, get dressed and face the media who were carefully wording questions of just how and when the team would recover.
The sight of a despondent Richard Hamilton, sitting at the entrance to the showers with an ice bag strapped to his right leg, head in hands, seemed to suggest recovery would not be a quick process.
“Who knows?” Hamilton said a short time later when asked how long the disappointment would last. “Like I said, we played basketball until the last possible day that anybody could play basketball. So, probably right now, you just want to get away, get away from everything, rest your body, take time off and get ready for next year.”
Equally as disappointed as Hamilton, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace slipped out a side door of the locker room without fielding questions. Wallace, who for the first six games of the series proudly toted his pro wrestling-style heavyweight title belt over his shoulder, meekly carried the prop at his side as he exited to an adjacent training room.
Chauncey Billups, meanwhile, found a bit of comfort in the championship ring won last June, slipping it over his right hand’s middle finger and welcoming questions from the press before ever pulling on a shirt.
“Somebody has to lose, unfortunately it was us this time,” a saddened Billups said, occasionally reaching up to scratch his chin with the bejeweled right hand. “But, I’m proud of what we did this season and how hard we fought. To be on the road and lose at the end in a tough, hard-fought game, I’m proud of my guys. I’m proud of the heart that we showed, but, of course, we’re disappointed. We felt like we should be celebrating tonight.”
Instead, it was the Spurs and the city of San Antonio who did the celebrating after dispatching the Pistons.
The highly-anticipated, decisive game was exactly what most believed the entire series would be when the Pistons downed the Miami Heat in seven games to advance to face the Spurs: a grueling, defensive affair where every basket was as precious as the prize awaiting the victors.
The Pistons hung close for only a few minutes to open the fourth quarter before it became apparent this night belonged to the home team.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the Spurs,” Hamilton remarked. “They did a great job tonight. They had to make plays in the fourth quarter. They hit a couple big three-point shots and things like that, so you’ve got to give a lot of credit for them.
Those threes, a facet of the game haunting the Pistons the entire series, came at a most inopportune time. First it was Robert Horry, hero of Game 5, connecting from beyond the arc early in the fourth. After the Pistons regained two of those points on a Rasheed Wallace turnaround jumper, Bruce Bowen posted three more to stretch the Spurs’ lead to a nearly insurmountable difference.
“You know, we let one slip away,” Ben Wallace said, “everybody feels like we let one slip away.”
The Pistons had trouble matching the Spurs’ intensity midway through the fourth quarter, as the raucous home crowd propelled San Antonio to its third title in seven years.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to the Spurs,” Wallace added. “They came out and showed a lot of guts and gave it a lot of heart and when they needed to make plays, they did. They went out and earned it.”
The Spurs were also active on the defensive end, getting in passing lanes, harassing ball handlers, deflecting passes, altering shots and causing problems for the Pistons backcourt.
“It was a good game,” Billups said after being held to 13 points on only 3-of-8 shooting. “I thought both teams fought hard and that’s what you want in a Game 7. Obviously we came up short but it was a hard fought battle, man.”
“You know, they changed the defensive assignments,” Pistons coach Larry Brown explained as the Spurs championship celebrations were in full swing. “[Tony] Parker did a good job on Rip and [Bruce] Bowen did a great job on Chauncey.
“I thought Pop did a great job of getting us out of stuff with their defensive effort,” Brown added.
While Brown was praising his one-time assistant, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was doing the same in front of 18,797 Spurs’ faithful.
“I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for Larry Brown,” Pop said at center court, prompting a warm ovation from fans as respectful as the team they support. “He’s the best.”
And so it was, the student finally got one over on the teacher, who packed up his team and departed for a chartered jet and the darkness above the Alamo – without a second trophy in as many years.
– Jeff Dengate covered the Pistons beat throughout the Finals.
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